Should We End Daylight Saving Time?

Remove Daylight Saving Time DST

It's safe to say that probably all of you have heard of Daylight Saving Time (DST), and you might have also seen opponents trying to convince everybody that the concept is ancient and should be abolished entirely. But what is DST, why do we observe it, and why are some people opposed to it?

The history of DST

Some people incorrectly credit Benjamin Franklin with the invention of DST, but the truth is, he didn't quite create the concept in the shape and form that we know it today. What he did notice, however, was that if Parisians adjust their sleeping schedules during the summer, they will save "an immense sum" on wax candles. Although his idea was published in a satirical essay, the logic behind it was completely sound. For better or worse, however, nobody paid attention to it.

The first proper DST proposal came more than a century later and about 12 thousand miles South-East of Paris in New Zealand. Entomologist George Hudson was frustrated with how little daylight he had for hunting insects, and he came to roughly the same conclusion as Franklin. He was a lot more serious about the idea, however. Hudson wrote a paper and presented it in front of the Wellington Philosophical Society with the hope of convincing everyone that shifting the clock by two full hours would give him and the rest of the people a lot more time for leisure activities during the summer. It sounded like a maverick idea, but people did pay some attention to it. In the end, however, it wasn't accepted.

A few years later, in the UK, an English builder by the name of William Willett was also wondering why societies lose so much daylight during the summer. Like Hudson, Willett realized that moving the clocks in the spring and autumn would enable people to take better advantage of the longer summer days and would cut down the cost associated with creating artificial light. He proposed shifting the clocks forward by 80 minutes in 4 incremental steps in April and reversing them using the same scheme in September. He was convinced that what he was saying was true, and some Members of the British Parliament, including a young Winston Churchill, were inclined to agree with him. Despite his campaigning, however, Willett didn't manage to persuade the governing bodies at the time to turn DST into an active law, and in 1915, he died of influenza at the age of 58.

World War I was raging at the time, and countries on both sides of the battlefield were trying to streamline the way they manage their precious resources and feed as many of them as possible into the war effort. Unlike the UK, Germany took William Willett's idea quite a bit more seriously, and in 1916, just a year after his death, DST was officially implemented in the German Empire and Austria-Hungary.

Britain and other European nations followed suit almost immediately, and in 1918, the US implemented DST as well. Currently, about 70 countries around the world shift their clocks twice a year. It would appear, however, that there are more and more opponents to the idea of DST.

The cases for and against DST

Quite a lot of people fervently argue that in the 21st century, DST is causing more harm than good. In actual fact, for more than a year now, the European Commission has been contemplating a regulation that could eliminate DST throughout the European Union. But why did people start opposing the idea?

Well, as we mentioned already, DST was first born as a way of saving energy, and back in the days of wax candles, gas lamps, and coal-burning stoves, few were prepared to argue that it wasn't effective. At the moment, however, estimating the effects of DST on our energy consumption is next to impossible. There have been studies, but the results are inconclusive at best, with some surveys saying that DST is making for marginally better energy consumption while others claim that the shift is actually making us use even more electricity.

The results vary wildly not least because they depend on many different factors, including geographical location. Most experts seem to agree that DST's original purpose has now been defeated to a large extent.

At the same time, yet more studies claim that DST has a negative impact on our lives in a variety of other ways. According to some papers, the risk of heart attacks is much higher during the weeks after the shift in time. Others say that most likely due to sleep deprivation and the change in our circadian rhythm, there are more car crashes during the Monday after DST starts, and there are even experts who claim that court sentences tend to be harsher when they're decided around the time of the shift. It's difficult to tell how reliable the methods used during these studies are, but it's fair to say that they all tend to be conveying the same negative mood towards DST.

There are counter-arguments, of course. While some experts say that DST increases the risks of heart attacks, others claim that the longer daylight period during the summer promotes physical activities and helps people stay healthier. There are also companies which actively oppose the removal of DST because such an act could hurt their business.

All in all, whether or not DST should be removed is a question that doesn't have a definitive answer. The people that want to see it gone seem to be more vocal for now, but the matter is serious, it impacts millions, and it should be considered very carefully.

August 26, 2019

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