Rant: Daylight Shifting Time

Let’s call it what it is.

I don’t understand Daylight Savings Time. I understand the concept but I don’t understand how a worthless, archaic institution still exists. Over the years I’ve heard of a number of theories as to why we have it: it helps farmers, people want more daylight in the summer, it saves electricity. All of these are fine, but do any of these justify changing our clocks twice a year? Is it worth it? I have yet to find anyone who thinks it is. People I’ve talked to hate it or are ambivalent, but somehow we still have this ridiculous ritual.

First, let’s start with the name “daylight savings time.” If proposed today, the media would try to sell this with “Look, we saved daylight! Don’t you want to save daylight?” and those apposed would call those people “daylighters.” Great job with the spin, you guys. There is no way to save daylight; you get what you get. The amount of daylight is determined by the rotation of the earth and the direction of it’s axis. If the axis is pointing towards the sun, we get more daylight in the northern hemisphere, and less daylight in the southern hemisphere. When the axis points away from the sun, the opposite happens. Let’s please call this what it is, Daylight Shifting Time. Dear shifters, I’m not a fan of your cause. If the shifters want to advocate their position, I would be glad to talk to them. No one is rising to the challenge as far as I can see.

You can’t shift one hour for DST without having standard time. Prior to standard time, every one used solar time which simply means they told time by where the sun was in the sky. This could be through a sundial or burning out your retinas looking up at the sun or just guessing. It was fine for most people. You farmed during the day and slept at night. Then came the railroads and suddenly people had a need to all be on the same time. The first adoption was in the 1840s in Great Britain and by 1855 ninety-eight percent of the clocks were on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), or the official time of the naval observatory on the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, UK.

Quickly, standard time became less standard when GMT didn’t match solar time for most of the world. For example, 12 noon GMT is 4am in Los Angeles. As a solution, it was suggested that the world be sliced into twenty four time zones, one for each hour. The time zones were introduced in the US on November 18, 1883 which was called “The Day of Two Noons.” Each railroad station reset its clocks to match the standard-time noon of the new time zone. In a year 85% of the larger cities were on the standard time of their time zones.

Time zones brought up other absurdities. Counties, cities, states and countries still had to adopt the time zone and some chose the one they wanted. Even thought the Prime Meridian runs through the UK to continental of Europe, France and Spain have chosen to adopt Central European time, the same as Germany instead of the UK. Even stranger, crossing at the Wakhjir Pass from Afghanistan to China is a three and a half hour time difference. If you start crossing at noon, you’ll arrive in China after 3:30pm. This occurs because China, the third largest country by area, has only one time zone. India also has only one time zone. In contrast, the continental US has four time zones, Canada has six, and Russia has eleven.

Not every time zone is an hour different from it’s neighbor. There are several places with time zones that are off by half an hour: Newfoundland, North Korea, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Burma, Sri Lanka as well as parts of Australia.

To make time even more confusing, Daylight Shifting Time was proposed by George Hudson of New Zealand. George’s hobby was to collect insects and he wanted more time to collect bugs in the evening. I can’t think of a worse reason for DST. Germany and Austria-Hungry implemented it first in 1916. (Austria-Hungry doesn’t even exist anymore, but DST, an equally archaic institution is still around today.)

Today, most of the states in the US observe DST, but with some exceptions. First, Hawaii does not observe it, but it’s so close to the equator that the days and nights are pretty much equal all year round. However, Alaska does observe DST even though it is so far north, the summers have almost 24 hours of daylight at times. Arizona doesn’t observe DST which wouldn’t be a problem except that the Navajo Nation, within the borders of the state does observe it. To make matters even more complicated, the Hopi Reservation, located geographically in the Navajo Nation does not observe DST. That means if you drive across Arizona, you could change your clock 5 times or more.

Daylight Shifting Time matters, but not in the way that proponents suggest. Since 2007, studies have shown that the S&P 500 has dropped 0.24 percent after the weekend DST starts. That’s millions of dollars lost when cranky people wake up an hour early and sell a bunch of stock. Also, scientists have found a correlation between a DST transition and an 8% increase in ischemic stroke.

But DST doesn’t just destroy lives, it can also save them. During the Vietnam war, young men were drafted by birth dates in a randomly selected order. One man was likely to be drafted since his birth date was a low number, one picked early in the draft process. The man was born just after midnight and he went to court claiming that in the state where he was born, it was under standard time, which means that his birth was actually an hour earlier than reported and therefore a different day. He won and was able to avoid the draft with a higher number.

Many can claim that Daylight Shifting Time has benefits, but they are shifty at best. At worst, this man-made fallacy just complicates our already strained relationship with time and dates (read my Rant about calendars and leap years in a previous issue.) Why do we still put up with a confusing, difficult system with no real benefits to the entire population? Maybe it made sense in the mid-1800’s when electric lights weren’t available, but now there are no quantifiable benefits to society.

We can’t change the rotation or the axis of the Earth. Let’s enjoy the nighttime with it’s starry skies and big full moons and shooting stars. We can’t bend time and physics so why not even bother. Let’s stop living a lie that we can save time or daylight and until it’s abolished let’s at least call it what it is: Daylight Shifting Time.▪️

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