Sunday, March 14, 2010

Geek Alert: My Case for Daylight Saving Time All the Time

Note: I wrote this for my college newspaper when I was an opinion columnist back then. And updated it a smidge as an adult. I just felt like posting it today in celebration of Daylight Saving, Albert Einstein's Birthday and Pi Day. I'm nerdy like that.

Almost every year at two a.m. on the first Sunday in April, most of the United States sets its clocks forward one hour and wakes up with that unpleasant feeling of jetlag and the nagging sense that there really aren’t enough hours in the day. The reason is to “save daylight”. If clocks are set forward one hour, the sun seems to rise an hour later—preventing people from sleeping through full sunlight hours in the early morning. It also appears to set an hour later—allowing more sunlit time in the afternoon. When the sun is up, people use less energy because they do not have to turn on as many lights. In other words, Daylight Saving Time helps America to use less energy.

Most of us are too young to remember that Daylight Saving Time (DST) was not always standardized. In fact, DST is not standardized all over the world or even all over the United States: Arizona, Hawaii and the part of Indiana that is in the Eastern time zone do not observe DST.* (If you really want an example of the arbitrary nature of time, consider China. The gigantic country doesn't even have time zones.)

Daylight Saving is an arbitrary time period set by the federal government. Its duration each year has changed dramatically since the idea was first proposed by Benjamin Franklin. As recently as 1986, then President Ronald Reagan moved the date that DST began to its current position on the first Sunday in April. During the early 1960s, DST was not federally regulated and each region, state or city could determine if and when it would observe DST. Not surprisingly, broadcasters and mass transit companies protested the variability of time. After all, how could an airline give an estimated time of arrival if they could not be sure what time it would be in the destination city?

All of this information is meant to give you, the reader, the understanding that time is extremely relative and can be changed arbitrarily. In the spirit of that idea, I propose that the United States move permanently to Daylight Saving Time.

It’s happened before. During both World War I and World War II DST was instituted on a permanent basis to conserve fuel used to create energy. Also, during the oil embargoes of the 1970s, Congress put the nation on extended DST for two years in order to save on heating oil. The experiment netted 10,000 barrels of oil a day in saved energy use.

Currently, we are facing an oil crisis and the results have been reflected each month in our heating bills and in our gas tanks. Oil is expensive and anything we can do to conserve it is worth doing. Considering that we have a precedent for extended DST, I do not understand why the government has not moved on this plan. The Bush Administration has already extended it this year; why not make it permanent?

Extending Daylight Saving Time also has other benefits. Because people were able to complete the majority of their transportation from school and work as well as errands before the sun went down, the Department of Transportation estimated that 50 lives were saved and 2000 injuries prevented during the extended DST of the 1970s because many common crimes occur after dark. American and British studies also indicate that pedestrians are four times less likely to be killed by car accidents during Daylight hours.

Surveys by the Department of Transportation indicate that most Americans like DST because there is “more light in the evenings” allowing people to “do more in the evenings”. Critics of extended DST (generally farmers or farming states) do not like how late DST would “make” the sun rise in the winter. I opine that the majority of farming work does not take place in the winter anyway, and furthermore, most of the country revolves around commerce and industry, not farming.

I am a reluctant early-riser--thanks to my job and my child--and I could really care less when the sun rises in the winter. It's not pleasant to be up early no matter what. I would much prefer to have an extra hour of daylight in the evening than in the morning. After all, I’m going to work in the morning and that sucks anyway. I would certainly rather see the sun when I get to come home from work.

If public opinion is not enough, if pedestrian safety is not enough, oil conservation should certainly be enough. Congress can and should extend DST to at least eight months of the year if not all twelve. We could save at least 120,000 barrels of oil a year. That’s four times as much as the controversial amount released from the Federal Oil Reserves by president Clinton in September of 2000. Permanent Daylight Saving Time is good for the economy, public safety, and personal morale. How can we say no?

* Indiana now observes DST statewide.

- Liz

P.S. Sorry for subjecting you all to my geekery. Back to my usual blathering tomorrow. ;)

1 comment:

eleven said...

I think you missed the biggest and most important reason for the sun to rise later in the day; small children who are set by some insane biological-sun clock would sleep later. The longer it's dark in the morning, the better in my opinion. Hey, why not set sunrise for, say, 10 am? I could live with that.

My brother-in-law wished us a happy pi day, and I pointed out we were eating brownies. He said, 'No, no, the three point one four kind,' and I automatically added 'One five nine!' Now, I wish I had memorized it to fifty decimal places like my friends in college. That would have been a fun family dinner table conversation, reciting pi to each other.