Thursday, November 8, 2007
Spring forward, fall back
It’s that time of year again. Last week, Americans set their clocks back one hour. Most of us will probably welcome the change. After work there is enough daylight savings time for us to have a few hours to do what we want. Daylight savings time was not always so popular, and there are still those, especially in the rural area, who don’t like the idea of messing with Mother Nature. One farmer said, “You can’t train a rooster to crow an hour before sunrise!”
The primary argument in favor of daylight savings time is that it reduces energy consumption by shifting an hour of sunlight from early morning to the late afternoon. The rationale is that if clocks are moved forward during warm months when daylight is most abundant, people will use less electricity because they will be engaged in outdoor activities an hour extra during the afternoon rather than being inside their homes using appliances — lights. Only during the darkest months of winter, when the sun rises late, is the afternoon advantage offset by the need for morning electricity. Studies have shown that daylight savings time does, in fact, save a small, although significant amount of energy.
Proponents have claimed that daylight savings time reduces traffic accidents. The argument holds that moving an hour of daylight to the evening when more drivers are on the road that there are in the morning, reduces accidents, because increased daylight means increased visibility. Also shifting an hour of daylight to the evening reduces crime, because the crime rate between sundown and bedtime is higher than during daytime.
Opponents of daylight savings time complain that it is not worth the inconvenience of changing clocks and adjustments to a new sleeping schedule twice a year. Many people engaged in agriculture particularly dislike daylight savings time because animals don’t observe it. Farmers have to juggle their schedules to accommodate the animals’ natural clock while trying to meet the demands of an outside world governed by an artificial clock. Another reason farmers tend to prefer standard time is that the early sun allows time for fields to dry before work begins.
Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the idea of daylight savings time in a whimsical essay that was published in the Journal de Paris in 1784 when he was ambassador to France. But Franklin was suggesting that people should get up an hour earlier rather than waste daylight by lying in bed. It was not until 1907 that the idea of adjusting clocks to increase the amount of daylight during waking hours was first seriously suggested by William Willet, an Englishman. Daylight savings time was finally accepted there in 1916 during World War I, and the United States followed suit in 1918 with the passage of the Standard Time Act, which also established different time zones throughout the country for the first time, although they had been in use by the railroads since 1883.
Many Americans didn’t even have clocks and some who did thought daylight savings time was a crazy scheme to fool folks about nature. One opponent argued that if we could change time by merely changing our clocks, “Why not move the freezing point, so people will feel warmer in the winter?”
Now, during World War II, not only was daylight savings time observed year round as an energy saving step, daylight savings war time was set two hours ahead for the whole war. I was in college at that time and I had an 8 o’clock class and had to get ready to go to breakfast at the cafeteria, so I remember getting up in the total darkness and it was barely daylight at 8 o’clock.
After World War II, the use of daylight savings time in the U.S. again became a local decision and its implementation varied from region to region. Then the Uniform Time Act was passed and signed into law by President Johnson. The law provided that daylight saving would begin the last Saturday in April and end the last Sunday in October, six months of the year. This year, daylight savings time began for most of of the United States at 2 a.m. on March 11 and ends at 2 a.m. on Nov. 4, giving almost 300 million Americans a charge to “do more” in the evening.
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