Even with mildly warm weather, bright sunshine, and the melodious sounds of birds chirping in the blossoming trees, this time of year still brings dread to many.
Yes, it is Daylight Saving time (DST), the time of year when we all wake up with our alarms at our regularly scheduled time only to find that the warm and inviting sun we had just gotten used is no longer on the job.
As someone who grew up in Arizona (where they do not recognize DST), moving east and adjusting to this sadistic practice was a challenge. Sure, I am used to the idea of spring forward and fall back. It is an easy enough construct to understand. What I do not understand is why anyone would feel the need to completely mess with the circadian clocks of an entire nation by making them wake an hour earlier — for many, before the sun comes up.
Well, for my fellow readers who may not be familiar with DST — those who reside in Arizona, Hawaii, a few US territories, a lucky few living in random areas of Indiana that are new to it, and most of the rest of the world — here is a brief history lesson for you.
Daylight Saving Time (note: “saving time” not “savings time”) is a time of year, typically at the start of spring, when residents advance their clocks forward one hour in the summer months, whereby extending evening daylight an hour longer and sacrificing normal sunrise times. The time is then adjusted back one hour in the fall (unless you were the USSR throughout the Cold War) to what is known as the “Standard Time.”
According to Wikipedia, we owe our misery and discontent to New Zealander George Hudson, who first proposed the idea in 1895. It actually was first implemented in 1916, when the practice was first taken up nationally by Germany and Austria-Hungary. Since then, mostly North American and European companies have adopted DST, with the vast majority of other countries exercising common sense and dignity.
The idea behind DST was simple. Most industrialized nations followed a clock-based schedule for operations and activities and had no need to adjust clocks throughout the year. The personal and business activities and routines of agrarian societies, however, were mostly governed by the length of daylight hours, from sun-up to sun-down. This changed dramatically from season to season because of the Earth’s axial tilt, with daylight lasting considerably longer in the summer than in the winter in the northern hemisphere.
The goal was to synchronize clocks of industrial societies with those agrarian societies in common regions so that individuals following a year-round schedule would wake earlier in the summer and be operating on a similar schedule to their agrarian counterparts.
Advocates for this one-hour shift typically promote benefits such as saving energy, reducing traffic accidents and crime, and promoting more outdoor leisure activity and, hence, better physical and mental health (in the summer evenings, of course).
Michael Downing, a lecturer at Tufts University and author of the book “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,” states that many of the benefits have actually been disproven. “In fact,” says Downing, “school children and their advocates have always opposed daylight saving because by moving the clocks forward we get less morning sunlight and children are out on dark streets. The same goes for the farmers. It turns out, the farmers has always hated daylight saving.”
As well, when it comes to energy savings, Downing points out that “when Americans go outside and go to the park and go to the mall, we don’t walk — we get in our cars and drive. So for the past 100 years, the dirty secret is daylight saving increases gasoline consumption.”
So who exactly is advocating for DST? Simple: businesses.
In fact, one of the biggest advocates for DST is the US Chamber of Commerce, which according to Downing understood that “if you give workers more sunlight at the end of the day, they’ll stop and shop on their way home … the barbecue industry loves daylight savings, so do the home good stores, because people tend to go out of their houses, see that their roofs need replacing and buy more shingles. It’s a really important part of niche marketing for the retail industry.”
And, maybe the biggest advocate for DST? The golf industry.
According to Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Federation, “For people who don’t play golf, they should care a lot about the fact that daylight savings time creates additional opportunities for people to play golf. From an economic standpoint, golf on a national level creates almost $70 billion a year in economic impact. It employs almost 2 million Americans, it generates almost $4 billion in charitable giving, almost all of which goes to causes outside of golf. In addition to that, golf facilities are small businesses, and they’re usually among the most stable employers and source of revenue for local suppliers than any other business.”
So, for at least now, we seemed destined to be stuck with DST. Personally, I would like to bring advocates to my home at 6AM on the Monday following DST and demonstrate the impact — not necessarily economic, but certainly mental — of waking a four-year old who has not properly adjusted to the time change. I think that experience alone could change the way the world thinks of DST.