Daylight saving time reawakens debate about its worth

Springing forward and falling back leaves several people befuddled


Photo by Submitted

The week after daylight saving time marks a time of low productivity and exhaustion.

Americans have once again survived the shift to daylight saving time, followed by a week of lagging productivity, cyberloafing and just wishing they could go back to bed.

We all have heard the ways in which daylight saving time benefits people, but where did the idea come from, and why does it still exist? Most importantly, does it provide any tangible benefits to those who recognize it?

Founding father Benjamin Franklin is often mistakenly credited with the idea of daylight saving time in his essay “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light.” But his suggestion to Parisians to get out of bed earlier to economize candle usage was satirical, not serious.

Proposals for implementing time changes have cropped up over the years, but Germany became the first country to implement daylight saving time in 1916 during the first World War as a way to save fuel. Subsequently, the United States adopted daylight saving time in 1918 to support the war effort.

However, daylight saving time was not a permanent measure. It was removed following WWI and since then, rules concerning daylight saving time have changed over the years.

The modern conception of daylight saving time was signed into law with the Energy Policy Act of 2005, with it starting on the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November.

One of the main reasons supporters champion daylight saving time is that it conserves energy. Following this logic, if the day seems longer because there is more daylight, people will use less electricity in the evenings.

However, according to National Geographic, the theory is fallible because temperature, not lighting, consumes the most energy today. Conserving an hour’s worth of lighting doesn’t offset blasting the air conditioning throughout the day.

One study conducted by the University of California-Santa Barbara found that when Indiana adopted daylight saving time in 2006, residential electricity use rose by one percent because of the additional demand on heating and cooling.

In addition, it is commonly believed that daylight saving time was adopted to benefit farmers. In fact, the agriculture industry opposed the switch to daylight saving time when it was first introduced in 1918, as it was disruptive to their work schedule and the habits of their livestock.

Studies have also shown the constant shift in daylight hours can have a negative effect on people’s health. Researchers found on the Monday following the beginning of daylight saving time, the risk of heart attack increased up to 25 percent.

Till Roenneberg, a chronobiologist at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, said daylight saving time disrupts people’s circadian rhythms, from which they don’t recover.

“The consequence of that is the majority of the population has drastically decreased productivity, decreased quality of life, increasing susceptibility to illness and is just plain tired,” Roenneberg said.

So if daylight saving time doesn’t stem energy consumption, benefit farmers or assist with people’s health, what good does it do? The most common response is that it spurs summer spending due to an extra hour in the day and improved moods.

One 2016 study conducted by JPMorgan Chase & Co. found spending in Los Angeles, a city which observes daylight saving time, rose with an extra hour of daylight compared to Phoenix, a city which does not observe daylight saving time.

In addition, the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing stated daylight saving time is the reason for tens of billions of dollars in increased gas sales since 1986.

Although many people use daylight saving time to enjoy long evenings during the summer months, the benefits far outweigh the annoyances and dangers caused by the constant moving back and forth one hour.

Federal government does not require states to follow the time changes, so some states and territories already don’t participate, including Hawaii, Arizona, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands.

However, a solution may not be reached easily because it is a state decision. Matters would grow more confusing if some states choose to remain in daylight saving time and others choose to fall back to standard time. For about half the year, these states would be on the same clock.

Politics also comes into play, as politicians are divided on whether they want to remain in one time or not. In the same way, those who support one time are divided on remaining in standard time or daylight saving time.

It’s unlikely states will come to a unanimous decision regarding which time they adopt, but only 70 of the 196 countries in the world follow daylight saving time. Perhaps it’s time for the United States to leave it by the wayside.