It’s a popular myth that Daylight Saving Time is for farmers—a myth that some of us were taught in schools. This practice—which only became regular in 1966 (which may also surprise you!)—was challenged by farmers and is increasingly being challenged by modern society. Last month, Europeans changed their clocks back to standard time, possibly for the last time. Some states have also questioned the practice. Read on …
DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME IN THE 1970S
When I grew up in the 1970s, I remember Daylight Saving Time (DST) being popular. The government and schools seemed to promote it as a positive and beneficial force. When the clocks moved forward an hour in March, my mother would get a grumpy me out of bed and say, “Look! All you kids have more time after school to play outside!” (As I consider my son’s 7th grade class, I ruefully think that this was a time when more kids played outside.)
Interestingly, DST wasn’t a regular “thing” until April 12, 1966 when President Johnson signed it into law. The Uniform Time Act established a system of uniform (within each time zone) Daylight Saving Time throughout the U.S. and its possessions. States were allowed to opt out (and some did).
Before then, DST was briefly used during World War I and World War II to conserve fuel—and then there was a short stint during the oil crisis of the early 1970’s under Nixon. (Read more about the checkered history of Daylight Saving Time.)
DAYLIGHT SAVING IS NOT FOR FARMERS
The myth is strong with this one. DST has nothing to do with farming. In fact, farmers have often been the strongest lobby against the change. Farmers didn’t like DST when it was first introduced and don’t like it to this day.
During the first World War I experiment in 1918, farmers were extremely opposed to having to turn back and forward their clocks. Not surprisingly, it disrupted their schedules and made it more difficult to get the most out of hired help.
Imagine telling a dairy cow used to being milked at 5 A.M. that their milking time needs to move back an hour before the milk truck is coming to do a pickup. For the farmer—and the plants and animals—it’s the sun and the seasons that determine the best times to do things.
After the war ended in 1918, the DST law (which lasted 7 months) proved so unpopular with our agrarian society, the federal law was repealed (in 1919). Some state and localities continued the observance.
In the early 1960s, observance of DST was quite inconsistent across U.S. states. Businesses and transportation companies pushed for standardization. The farmers, however, were opposed to it.
DAYLIGHT SAVING EXTENDED IN 2007
In 1986, DST began at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and ended at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.
Beginning in 2007, Congress extended DST with the assumption that energy consumption would be reduced.
In the United States—as well as Canada—Daylight Saving Time:
- Ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November (November 4 in 2018)
- Begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March (March 11 in 2019)
SO, WHO BENEFITS FROM DAYLIGHT SAVING?
Some constituencies profit from changing our clocks.
- For example, today, we drive our cars everywhere. The lobbying groups for convenience stores know this—and pushed hard for daylight saving time to last as long as possible.
- Extra daylight means more people shop in retail environments. Outdoor businesses such as golf courses and gardening supply stores report more profit with more daylight hours.
Does DST really conserve energy? According to Congress, this is the main reason for the switch. When the Energy Policy Act extended the hours in 2007, Congress retained the right to revert back should the change prove unpopular or if energy savings are not significant.
- A Department of Energy report from 2008 found that the extended DST put in place in 2005 saved about 0.5 percent in total electricity use per day. However, the closer you live to the equator, where the amount of daylight varies little, actually increased after the clocks were switched.
- In Indiana, where I currently live, the change to DST in 2006 actually cost us. Matthew Kotchen, a Yale economist, found a 1 percent increase in electricity use in Indiana. Due to higher electricity bills and more pollution, Indiana’s change ended up costing consumers $9 million per year.
- Further studies in 2008 showed that Americans use more domestic electricity when they practice daylight saving.
Today, as modern society marches forward, the energy argument may become obsolete. In terms of work, we’re not really a 9 to 5 society any more. Factories have different shifts. Office workers use the internet. Farmers will use daylight hours, no matter what. At home, our electricity demand is no longer based on sunrises and sunsets. We drive instead of walking which means daylight saving actually increase gasoline.
It’s quite possible we are now wasting energy.
And with computers, TV screens, and air conditioning using more energy, more Americans find switching clocks increasingly unpopular.
OUR BODIES, OUR HEALTH
Energy isn’t the only thing to be considered. What about our health? Polls show that the switch between Daylight Saving Time and Standard Time each year is miserable for most humans.
Clocks are man-made. Changing the time disrupts our body clocks or circadian rhythm. For most people, the resulting tiredness is more of an inconvenience twice a year. For many folks, however, it’s a more serious issue.
- Studies show it leads to more car accidents and heart attacks—the latter by as much as 24 percent.
- Studies link the lack of sleep at the start of DST to workplace injuries, suicide, and miscarriages.
- In the workplace, studies have found that there is a decrease in productivity after the spring transition.
- What about November when you get an extra hour of sleep? The reality is that most people don’t sleep extra. And the disruption in the body’s daily sleep-wake cycle can affect sleep for several days.
You could argue it’s better for school children (not going to school in the dark); however, I’d disagree.
- Teenagers definitely don’t do well with DST during the spring change when they lose an hour of morning sleep.
- And consider the parents with small children; the kid that gets up a 5 A.M. will now be getting up the equivalent of 4 A.M. Parents will certainly lose sleep and spend weeks adapting twice a year—and studies show that their happiness levels are lower.
A MOVEMENT TO ABOLISH DST
Congress allowed states to opt out of Daylight Saving Time—though they they did not allow states to make daylight saving permanent. Either option would mean no clock changes.
- Most of Arizona does not change its clocks. Perhaps this makes sense given Arizona’s desert climate with hot temperatures and cool evenings.
- Several states in New England — Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island — have created commissions or introduced proposals to have year-round DST. These areas deal with very early winter sunsets. In New Hampshire, where The Old Farmer’s Almanac is based—the Sun sets at 4:14 P.M. on December 1.
- California has also considered abolishing the practice.
- This fall, the Florida Legislature passed the Sunshine Protection Act to make DST all-year-round—with overwhelming public support. That means no time changes with later sunsets (and later sunrises) all-year long. However, Congress has not approved Florida’s bill. (Remember: States can opt out of DST but they can’t go 100%.) When I think of my state of Indiana, which didn’t adopt DST until a decade or so ago, being out of sync with other time zones did create some problems attracting businesses to the state.
As history tends to repeat itself, this issue of time zone coordination across the country is a clearly a factor.
OUR EUROPEAN COUNTERPARTS
This brings us to our European contemporaries. They also practice Daylight Saving Time. For most of Europe, DST:
- Begins at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday of March and
- Ends at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday of October
However, Europe recently proposed ENDING the clock-changing. This past September (2018), the European Commission proposed scrapping DST altogether for ALL of the European Union. That’s 28 member countries! If approved, the last EU-wide clock change would be on Sunday, March 31, 2019. (In reality, it will take some time for this legislation to get approved.)
Other countries have ended DST. Argentina stopped daylight saving in 2009. Russia ended its daylight saving in 2014. Turkey ended DST permanently in 2016.
Just as is the case with North Americans, the EU population overwhelming wants to abolish DST. A poll was conducted in which 80% were in favor of eliminating it.
The head of the European Commission, which drafted the directive to end DST, said, “It would be pointless to ask for people’s opinions and not act on it if you don’t agree with them.”
I find it interesting that the Europeans—who first started DST (with North America following)—are now proposing the end of moving clocks twice a year.