Twice a year I get an email from a reader who says Daylight Saving Time is stupid.
Daylight Saving Time is the wrong term. It should be called Daylight Shifting Time, because for almost eight months we trade an hour of morning daylight for an hour of evening daylight. So instead of having summer sunrises at 4 a.m., we get summer sunsets at 9 p.m. As a non-early riser who gets irritated by the Tyranny of the Early Riser, this seems like an equitable deal to me. (So, yes, my DST-hating reader is wrong.)
Yes, it is inconvenient to move your clocks that don’t automatically set themselves (basically clocks that aren’t on your computer or cellphone) ahead one hour in March and then back one hour in November. (Though the juxtaposition of Halloween and the end of DST was very handy this year.) In March everyone will feel a bit sleep-deprived for a few days.
This week we get to enjoy, if that’s what you want to call it, stepping into the dark at the end of the work day, instead of, last week, stepping into the dark at the beginning of the work day. (Sadly, not long from now we will get to go to work and go home in the dark.) That is the result of our living as far north as we do; as you know, the farther north or south you are from the Equator, the more variation there is in sunrise and sunset. Similarly, those who live in the eastern ends of their time zone have earlier sunrises, while those who live in the western ends of their time zone have later sunsets.
Daylight Saving Time is credited to or blamed on, depending on your perspective, Ben Franklin, who may have been less than serious when he argued in An Economical Project that sunlight before you awaken is wasted. He claimed that shifting an hour of daylight from morning to night in Paris would save “An immense sum! that the city of Paris might save every year, by the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”
The energy savings of DST is questionable at best. Your not needing lights due to later sunsets may be offset by your running the air conditioning. I’m old enough to remember the first energy crisis and the federal government’s instituting DST in January 1975. That was a one-year thing after TV news shot photos of kids waiting for school buses in the dark. (Though given the prevalence of morning sports practices, kids now are … going to school in the dark.)
The social benefits are not questionable. Those who work long hours get at least some chance to enjoy a summer night, at least until the flying things make their nightly appearance. DST matches sunlight better with the hours when parents are done with work and their children are done with school. I have to think as well that tourism-related businesses — and tourism is one of Wisconsin’s three biggest industries — are able to take advantage of DST, not just from possible decreased electric use, but merely by having more people comfortable with being out and about before sunset. (The District of Columbia reported a 10-percent decrease in crime in the 1970s during DST.)
If you think shifting clocks one hour is bad, consider the way things used to be before time zones. Since time was set by local noon, if it was noon in Washington, it was 10:53 a.m. in Des Moines, 10:55 a.m. in St. Paul, 11:02 a.m. in Iowa City and Quincy, Ill., 11:08 a.m. in St. Louis, 11:09 a.m. in Springfield, Ill., 11:10 a.m. in Madison, 11:12 a.m. in Janesville, 11:16 a.m. in Milwaukee, and 11:17 a.m. in Chicago. (We have the railroads to thank for time zones.)
At least in Wisconsin we have one time zone to deal with. After DST became federal law in 1966, some of Indiana observed DST — the Central time parts and the parts of Indiana opposite Cincinnati and Louisville — but most of the state did not. So in the summers between 1967 and 2006, Indiana officially had three time zones — Central Daylight Time, Eastern Standard Time and Eastern Daylight Time — though EST and CDT are the same time. I went to Arizona in March 2011, and it wasn’t until I got there that I could figure out its time zone — Mountain Standard Time, the same as Pacific Daylight Time.
There also was the ridiculous idea concocted by two Johns Hopkins researchers to eliminate time zones and set all clocks at Greenwich Mean Time. That would mean most kids would be at school between 14 o’clock and sometime after 21 o’clock, two or so hours before your work day is done at 23 o’clock.
Some would argue that instead of switching clocks back and forth, we simply leave them shifted forward, so that high noon is always at 1 p.m. I don’t know how likely that is, but Congress must have been listening to its constituents about something given that DST started from late April to late October, then went from early April to late October, and now goes from the second weekend of March to the second weekend of November. There is some language irony in the fact that “standard” time is now half as long as non-standard time. People like their long(er) summer nights, and as for myself, I like sunsets much more than sunrises.