For most of us, Daylight Savings Time is a ritual that we don’t really understand. Twice a year, we change our clocks because the news tells us to, without really knowing why. Hey, why not? It seems benign. We’ll also celebrate a holiday in May named after an old British Queen if you provide the beer.
It turns out maybe the good old DST may not be as benign as all that. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about Daylight Savings Time: 1) It may cause heart attacks. 2) It’s more popular during wartime. 3) One Province and several states stubbornly refuse to change their clocks, ever, possibly because: 4) It’s all part of a big government conspiracy. 5) Well, okay, it’s not. But there are people who really believe that. And there are other people who have surprisingly strong feelings about it as well.
Strong feelings about Daylight Savings Time? C’mon — why?
Well, let’s start with a little history. Daylight Savings Time was first introduced in Germany, country of efficiency and clock-like precision, to save energy during the first world war. They didn’t call it that, but the idea was the same: In the summer months, when the sun rises really early, you can steal a little daylight from the morning, when people are asleep anyway. By rolling the clocks ahead, you can extend that daylight into the evening. As a result people will use less energy to light their homes.
(In fact, Benjamin Franklin first joked about the idea in 1785, when he wrote a satirical essay to the Journal de Paris outlining how much money could be saved in candle wax if Parisians just woke up a little earlier.)
Canada, the US, and most of Europe adopted the practice shortly after Germany did, but dropped it after the war. (Canada is the exception: we kept right on truckin’.) The US picked it up again during the second world war as an austerity measure–the only time, in fact, that it was enacted nationwide.
Wait, what? Aren’t all the cool kids doing it? Not everyone: Saskatchewan and Arizona abstain (among others), which can cause confusion for people who do business across province and state lines. Saskatchewan and Arizona both have strong agriculture-based economies, and it turns out that farmers–who tend to wake up and go to bed early–don’t like the idea very much. (It’s understandable that they’re not particularly enthusiastic about an extra hour of darkness at the start of their day–especially if they’re working outside.)
Besides, there’s real debate about whether springing forward and falling back actually saves energy. There hasn’t been enough research. Although two nationwide U.S. studies show some savings in electricity use, other studies contradict these findings. For example: More than 80% of the counties in Indiana ignored DST until statewide legislature forced the entire state to adjust their clocks in 2006. A University of California-Santa Barbara study found that energy expenditures actually rose by $8.6 million as a result. A 2007 Australian study had similar results.
Huh? Well, it likely has to do with how hot the area is to start with. It turns out it takes more energy to run an air conditioner than house lights. The extra hour of sunlight during waking hours means you have to cool your house longer. (As Canadians, we probably suffer less from this issue.)
The controversy continues: Late risers are hit hardest in the spring by the loss of an hour, and research shows it may take them weeks to adjust. And there is a documented bump in the number of heart attacks treated the Monday after we spring forward, and a dip the Monday after we fall back.
For some, the controversy slips into conspiracy: Could the U.S. have extended DST into November in 2007 to appease the candy industry, because more daylight on Hallowe’en means people have to buy more sweets? It’s possible: the candy industry had been lobbying for it. A bit more far-fetched is the idea that an extra hour of sunlight will have people driving more, so while we save electricity, Big Oil lines its pockets. (The theory posits that the Congressman who sponsored the Energy Policy Act received more campaign funding from the oil industry than any other member of congress.)
Just how worked up you want to get about changing your clock is up to you. Canada also extended DST into November in 2007, even though our days are shorter, because it would be inconvenient to break with the States. And we will probably continue to follow our neighbour’s lead for the foreseeable future. Despite the roaring DST debate, things probably aren’t going to change anytime soon–aside from your clocks, that is, which will change this Sunday.