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Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time

In the wee hours of the first Sunday morning of November, the semi-annual ritual of adjusting our clocks will take place as Daylight Standard Time returns to much of North America.  All but a small percentage of residents of the United States and Canada will turn their clocks back one hour bringing an end to Daylight Saving Time which started in March.  (Some parts of the U.S. and Canada do not have Saving Time, namely Hawaii, most of Arizona, and most of Saskatchewan.)  People in Mexico will turn their clocks back a week earlier, as will those living in Europe.

Daylight Saving Time is a shifting of our clocks so that people will have more daylight in the evening hours during the spring and summer.  Clocks get pushed ahead by an hour on the second Sunday of March.  This also means the sun rises one hour later, so it’s darker in the morning when people depart for their day’s activities.  Basically, DST plucks up the first hour of daylight and puts it back in the evening when most people are done with school and work.  This gives more time in the evening to enjoy the daylight.

However, it wasn’t the desire for increased daylight recreation which drove the establishment of DST.  In an essay written in 1784, Benjamin Franklin was the first to introduce the idea of Daylight Saving Time to save on the use of candles.  It didn’t catch on.  In 1895, an entomologist from New Zealand, George Hudson, proposed pushing the clocks two hours ahead to give him more hours of sunshine in the summer after work to go bug hunting.  His proposal took 20 years to materialize as a law in New Zealand.

Ultimately, the success of the clock change as a concept was due to economic pressures.  During World War I, Germany and its allies need to conserve costly energy, and thus instituted Daylight Saving Time as a way for more people to be outside in the evening instead of inside burning electric lights.  To keep the farmers happy, DST was only active in the summer, otherwise farmers would rise to dark mornings.  The other major world powers such as the United States and Great Britain quickly adopted their own time shift laws.
In the century since, proponents and detractors of Daylight Saving Time have squabbled over whether the idea is truly sound.  Supporters claim there’s more light for people to enjoy in the evening.  They also cite research showing that rates of robberies after DST goes into effect fall an average of 7 percent, and there’s a 27 percent drop in robberies during the sunlight-filled evening hours that didn’t exist before the time change.  Proponents of the time shift say it minimizes energy consumption because if there is more natural daylight to enjoy when more people are up and awake, less artificial light is needed.  That reduces the overall cost of energy.  DST supporters say the practice lowers the number of traffic accidents since it’s safer to drive home from a tiring workday in the sunshine rather than in the darkness.
Opponents of Daylight Saving Time offer several arguments.  Some studies claim the practice can take a toll on mental health.  DST may also be tied to an increase in suicide rates, and to workers’ dissatisfaction with life.  It may also affect those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Finally, DST’s detractors claim the practice may actually increase energy consumption since, in the age of central air-conditioning, those well-lit summer evenings are actually spent indoors as people seek relief from the build up of the day’s heat.
Many states are taking a look at abandoning the time shift.  There are serious movements in the west coast states, Florida, Arkansas, Nevada, and Tennessee to stay on Daylight Saving Time all year.  New England states are considering scrapping DST and moving into the Atlantic Time Zone (which is one hour earlier than the Eastern Time Zone).  It is unknown if the U.S. Congress will step in to realign time zones and set a national standard for how daylight is distributed.  Perhaps someday the idea of Daylight Saving Time will set, and a new day of light distribution will dawn.  We will have to wait and “see” if this century-old tradition is switched off.