So, About Daylight Saving Time

Time change at the end of Daylight Saving Time...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it’s time we were all honest with ourselves and just admitted that Daylight Saving Time is a failed idea.

It’s not a bad idea, in its original form. When early proponents (such as Benjamin Franklin) realized that we could take advantage of longer daylight hours by getting up earlier, that was a legitimate and factual observation. Ben satirically suggested cannons to rouse the populace earlier rather than changing the clocks, because changing the clocks was kind of a dumb idea, but the cannons didn’t exactly take off either.

Since then, Daylight Saving Time (it’s singular, despite popular mispronunciation) discussion has been full of good intentions with poor follow-through.

For example, some argue that DST fights crime, at least during summer months, because there is less darkness. Others say there’s more sunlight for kids to play outdoors. I’m not clear on whether these proponents think DST legislation actually affects the rotation of the earth — or somehow only part of it. Do they think Arizona really gets less sunlight than New Mexico during part of the year? Do they believe Indiana experienced dramatic climate change in 2006 when the state adopted DST? They do know there is not actually more sunlight during the misnamed Daylight Saving Time, right?

(If you mean there’s still light at later hours of the evening, then that’s true, but I’m not sure how that’s an advantage for the kids, whose bedtimes come an hour earlier. Quit blaming the children.)

Discussion is also full of misinformation. I’ve heard quite often that we adopted DST for the sake of the farmers, who needed the extra daylight. Aside from the fact that farmers can’t actually get more sun simply by legislating it, this ignores the fact that the farmers actually opposed DST when it was proposed in the US. When farmers want more field time, they get up earlier or work longer. You just need to change your alarm, not the whole time system.

And no one has answered this: If we really want the “earlier” start and we hate dark evenings, why not just do a single, permanent clock adjustment and be done with it? What advantage is there to shifting back for winter time? Why must we keep switching twice a year?

Daylight Saving Time Conserves Energy — Allegedly

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the biggie, of course, is that DST is supposed to be key in conserving energy. This may have been true at one point — after all, the first adopter was Germany during World War 1, going to “war time” to stretch energy resources. England followed soon after. Their time went back to normal after the war, suggesting that they didn’t see much advantage in it beyond emergency measures. DST crept into the US in the same way, first in WW1 and then as a WW2 year-round measure which never quite went away.

Even when evidence began to surface that DST wasn’t good for us — everything from circadian clocks which recover only in months or never, to an increase in auto accidents, to a five percent increase in heart attacks the week after shifting — we clung to the ideas that at least it was saving money or at least it was good for the earth, whichever was dearer to our hearts.

But we don’t use daylight to illuminate our houses and cubicle farms these days. We do use more energy on heating or cooling offices, schools, and recreational facilities, now built often without windows and definitely without windows which open, and getting people active earlier results in more HVAC units running.

The most recent Department of Energy study found a 0.03 percent decrease in energy use during DST, just 1.3 terrawatt-hours overall. While 1.3 terrawatt-hours is a lot of power, that’s overall a pretty minor advantage, and we could duplicate it by just being more responsible with our light switches in summer. By comparison, the DOE advises that widespread adoption of LED bulbs would save 348 terrawatt hours.

Let’s do that again: swapping to LED light bulbs would be 268 times more effective at saving energy than Daylight Saving Time. I’ll bet that if you offered people the option of buying a longer-lasting light bulb or moving their clocks twice a year, most people would take the light bulb.

But hang on, because DST may not even be that efficient.

In 2006 Indiana adopted DST. We were promised this would lead to business booms, because we’d no longer be offset from nearby business centers like Chicago. (Did we just forget that Chicago is still in a different time zone?) We were told it would save millions in energy costs. So legislators voted DST into effect.

Matthew Kotchen, an economist at the University of California, recognized a perfect opportunity to do a fair before-and-after analysis without the assumptions necessary in other studies. So he crunched three years of data as Indiana moved their clocks. His team concluded that DST, with its added burden on climate control systems, led to an overall one percent rise in energy costs and cost the state an additional $9 million. And oh, that extra energy expenditure produced extra pollution, with up to $5.5 million in related costs.

Indiana legislators apparently thought admitting a mistake and repealing would be worse than leaving the problem for future politicians and taxpayers to pay for, so they declared that we would never discuss this again. And so we, like other states afraid to change by not changing, keep our increasingly-inefficient system.

So if you want a handy mnemonic for the proper name, just remember there are no savings in Daylight Saving Time.

But what about our business with Chicago? At least now we don’t have to calculate the DST difference during part of the year, right? I don’t know that there’s been a significant uptick in profits which can be attributed to the adoption of DST. It is true that those who want to call Chicago no longer have to remember what month it is before dialing, which might make doing interstate business slightly more convenient. Whether it’s worth $14 million a year to not have to do the complicated math of adding or subtracting one while looking at a clock is a call I’m probably not authorized to make.

The delightfully wacky television series Eerie, Indiana featured an episode about “The Lost Hour,” in which protagonist Marshall is trapped in the Hoosier DST-anomaly (written obviously before Indiana drank the Kool-aid). Or check out these two trailers for the (sadly not-real) Daylight Saving Time thrillers.


Eerie, Indiana was a fun show with a lot of creative ideas. It’s low-budget humor with an unabashed joy in camp. Supernatural owes something to Eerie, Indiana. Make the popcorn.


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  1. Everything you said … true. As a not-a-morning-person, I would like the “summer clock” permanently; I love “evenings” with daylight still shining.

    • I love long evenings, too. So why switch back and forth? If we’re going to legislate a new time zone, why not legislate one that’s convenient and not unhealthy?

  2. I agree entirely that DST needs to go. I found most of the same things out when I researched it myself, other than the interesting insight into Indiana. However, you half joked/half begged that people don’t actually think we get more sunlight. During my investigation I came across a newspaper article suggesting that, having recieved an extra hour of sunlight every day was the reason the farmers were experiencing a drought. “They aren’t getting enough water to conpensate for that extra hour.” Offhand, sometimes I find things out and don’t want to live on this planet anymore…

    • OH. Um. /sputter/ Okay, er, that’s not actually how it works.

      Maybe somebody really does believe that there are fewer hours of darkness, putting a squeeze on busy photosensitive criminals who can work only at night.

  3. No. It always was a bad idea. You don’t get more daylight from DST!

    Yes, Franklin came up with the original idea… In the same publication that he wrote about the whales jumping over Niagara Falls!

  4. The problem is that logic has nothing to do with it at this point. You can argue with the best logic in the world, but it won’t matter if there’s no desire to go through the (admittedly one-time) hassle that is required to get everyone on the same page and to change everything that is set to automatically adjust. Yes, it will save time and hassle in the long run. We’d recognize the benefits within a year I’d suspect, but if history is any kind of teacher, getting people to make an extra effort for a long term benefit is a monumental task.
    So if we are to get traction on this idea, I think we need to find ways to coax people into movement.