August 22, 2005

The folly of daylight savings time

Courtesy of David Roberson, here are excerpts from a Boston Globe opinion piece by Michael Downing about the folly of daylight savings (or summer) time, during which our clocks are turned forward one hour so that there is more daytime to shop after work. In the new energy bill, DST will be start a month earlier and be extended a month longer starting in 2007.
The idea of falsifying clocks to delay sunrise and sunset times came to New England from old England. British architect William Willett noticed people were sleeping through sunrise. In 1907, he published "The Waste of Daylight," which inspired Germany, then Great Britain and the United States, to shove ahead their clocks during the First World War, hoping to conserve fuel.

It didn't work. It did work for Boston department store magnate A. Lincoln Filene. He knew evening sunlight encouraged working people to shop on their way home. Filene was chairman of the Boston Chamber of Commerce, which produced the influential 1917 study, "An Hour of Light for an Hour of Night." This became the basis for the national daylight saving campaign. Filene predicted a boon to the health and morals of the nation, and he outlined ten specific benefits for farmers. Each one was at odds with the experience of actual farmers.

Filene claimed that produce harvested before sunrise retained dew, making if fresher and more appealing at markets. Farmers knew crops could not be harvested until the sun had dried that dew. Filene predicted farmers would enjoy sleeping later, but they rose earlier than ever with one less hour of light to get their dairy to cities. Filene said animals preferred to work in the cool darkness of morning. Farmers said roosters did not wear watches.

Congress repealed daylight saving in 1919, despite intense lobbying from the Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, professional baseball, and golfers. ... In 1919, defying Congress and pleasing merchants, New York City passed a local ordinance to save daylight. Soon, Boston sprang ahead, and many cities followed. State legislatures, however, resisted the clock change on behalf of rural interests. Indeed, in Connecticut and New Hampshire, you could be fined up to $500 if your clock or watch displayed fast time.

Massachusetts was the exception. In 1921, our lawmakers passed a statewide daylight saving law -- the only one in the nation for more than a decade. This distinction did not please Bay State farmers. They sued the state, demanding a return to Standard Time and compensation for financial losses.

The case was ultimately settled by the US Supreme Court. In 1926, the farmers lost on both counts. The majority opinion was delivered by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a native of Boston.

Now, Congress promises we will save 100,000 barrels of oil every day. "The more daylight we have," reasons Congressman Markey, "the less electricity we use." Unfortunately, Congress can't increase the amount of daylight we have. Moreover, during the first week of November 2007, Americans won't see the sun until sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. We will have to turn on lights and squander our saving before it accrues.

In truth, even in midsummer, the oil saving doesn't add up. Most of our electricity is made with nuclear power and coal. And Congress has known since 1919 that daylight saving does not save a single lump of coal, though it does increase gasoline consumption by encouraging Americans to get in their cars and go shopping in the evening. ... When Congress extended daylight saving from six to seven months in 1986, ... [t]hat month was worth $350 to $550 million in additional sales to the golf and barbecue industries.
Not only roosters don't wear watches: Our own bodies are not simply "reset" to another time system. The annual leap "forward" essentially tells your body to wake up an hour earlier than it is used to. In northern states in March, most people would have to wake hours before dawn. Productivity at work and school plummets every spring because of this folly. And with darkness coming an hour later (by the clock), it is harder to make up the lost sleep to help the body readjust. Any gains for retailers are easily overwhelmed by the stresses put upon every worker and student.

Not to mention, it's unnatural. It's bad enough that we ignore sunrise and sunset in slavish year-round obedience to the clock's schedule. Then going and messing with that clock twice a year just to further manipulate the masses (to the masters' own loss, even) is diabolical. Or just plain stupid.

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