With the beginning of Daylight Saving Time coming this weekend, grumbles can be heard from coast to coast (except in parts of Arizona). I am reminded of questions I asked as a child in the 70's about this issue. "Why do we do change our clocks?" I asked my mother. She explained experts had determined it would save energy, because with an extra hour of sunlight, people wouldn't need to turn on their lights as much. Having been scolded a dozen or so times for turning down the thermostat to beat the southern summer heat, I knew air conditioning cost a lot of money. My mother had warned me many times that I was going to make the electric bill "sky high," in her deep Texas accent. So my puzzled, little mind prompted me to ask, "but doesn't that mean we'll use more electricity for air conditioning, because we'll have one more hour in the sun?" She shrugged and said "I don't know, they think they know better."
Many times in my life, I have joked about wanting to be present when this inane idea was first presented. Picture this. Some brilliant thinker suggests that we all reset our clocks twice a year, and we'll all pretend it's a different time than it really is, and somehow this will result in saving time and/or money. You would think this guy would be institutionalized for such odd thinking. So why do the vast majority of us go along with this crazy plan? Even if you're a believer in the system, you might question it after doing a little research.
The first hint of daylight saving time comes from the papers of our esteemed forefather, Benjamin Franklin. Many people know this and give credence to the notion because it came from such an innovative and brilliant mind. If Ben Franklin thought of it, it must be a good idea, right? Perhaps people should take a closer look at the actual paper that is the source for this belief. Ben Franklin did, in fact, write a paper suggesting ways to preserve daylight hours. Nearing the end of his years in Paris as an American delegate, Ben was not in the best of health and couldn't get out much. He was, in a word, bored. A close friend of Ben's was the editor of the Journal de Paris. To amuse his friend, Ben wrote a series of bagatelles (light-hearted writings). One of these writings was a letter he addressed to the editor and signed simply as "a subscriber." Ben poked fun at the Parisians for sleeping late and suggested methods for getting them out of bed before noon. He explained in quite a sophisticated manner how much money the city would save on candles and went so far as to suggest fines for people who were out late. He proposed humorous manners in which the oversleeping community could be awakened. His friend published the letter with the title (in English) An Economical Project. It was a joke. Anyone who reads the actual letter will easily find Ben's famous and obvious sense of humor throughout the document.
Fast forward to the twentieth century, when a man named William Willett wrote a pamphlet titled The Waste of Daylight. For Willett, changing the time of day was more about play than saving money. He pointed out during the summer months, precious early sunlit hours were wasted while people slept. He suggested changing clocks would shift that wasted time to the latter part of the day when it could be enjoyed. The mention of monetary savings on artificial lighting seemed secondary; as Willett was an avid golfer and was primarily looking to gain extra time to play. While he did not mention golf specifically in his writing, he did stress the importance of shifting this time for leisure activities. Willett actually promised that his method of rolling back the clocks 20 minutes for four Sundays in a row would literally save time. He included a chart to show specifically how many hours, that would otherwise be lost to sleep, would be "saved;" hence the phrase, "daylight saving." He went so far as to demonstrate mathematically how much time a person would "gain" over the years. Following is a quote from his pamphlet:
"Consider what this yearly gain of 210 hours of daylight means to succeeding generations. On reaching the age of 28 (without counting anything for 6 years of childhood), a man will have gained a whole year of daylight. At 50 he will have gained 2 years, at 72, 3 years."
Now, that's a convincing argument. Not only can you have more time for golf, you can gain time over the years and save money on candles. Willett is credited with creating the belief that daylight saving time is good. Quite the far-fetched notion, when you think about it. Do you feel like you really "save" time by resetting your clock? If so, do you have to give it back in the fall when you return to normal time? If a person is born in the spring and dies in the fall, does he owe an hour?
There are those who argue in favor of daylight saving time, citing the myth that there are fewer traffic accidents with longer daylight hours. However, reports from the Department of Transportation prove otherwise. Some people claim it's good for the economy to give people an extra hour to go out and play; but then again, the once popular drive-in movie experience is all but gone. Many people are mentally and physically affected by the switch, providing an argument for its banishment. In recent years, the main argument in support of daylight saving time is the idea that we save money and energy by rolling back our clocks; just like my mother said. Our government is so convinced it's a good idea, we've extended it even more, because of our current energy situation (don't say crisis) and our financial challenges (don't say recession). Now we winter forward and fall backwards. Why? Does an hour of extra sunlight really cause us to save money in today's world?
The great State of Indiana has given us the answer to that question. Indiana had been divided over daylight saving time until a year ago when the whole state began participating. Because this switch happened during modern times, it gave us a clear picture about how the program affects people today. A recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that the consequences for Indiana counties making the switch resulted in more energy usage. (Read more about the report in this Wall Street Journal article.) The answer to the question is no. Daylight saving time does not save money. In fact, it costs us more. The culprit? Air conditioning. The last comprehensive study done on daylight saving time was before World War II, when few people had the luxury of air conditioning. The largest use of energy then was lighting, so reducing the need for lights probably did lower energy usage. Today, our homes are filled with energy-sucking heating and air cooling units, major appliances and electronics. Turning on a light is barely a blip in the meter. Extending a summer day means air conditioners have to run for another hour. If this study had been done in the heat of the South, the energy usage would likely have been even higher. It is clear from this report that daylight saving time actually wastes energy.
It's common sense, really. Turns out the inquisitive child back in the 70's was right.
We've based our entire modern system for telling time on one man's joke and another man's desire to play more golf. No wonder Ben Franklin is grinning on that one hundred dollar bill.
Daylight Saving Time Ben Franklin Gets the Last Laugh