Every spring, we jump forward an hour to prolong our time spent in the sun during summer, then fall back into autumn with a jarring shift in minimized daylight hours. This weird, somewhat unsettling process is known as daylight-saving time, or DST. But DST was first proposed in the late 1700s by Benjamin Franklin to conserve candles – so why the heck are we still doing it?
A little (more) historical background: DST, started in the US in 1918 as a way to conserve energy during WWI, after which the national law was dropped and observing DST was a local option. In 1942 during WWII, President Roosevelt orders “War Time,” a year-round DST that runs for the duration of the war. In ’66 Congress passed act standardizing the beginning and end dates, but still left it up to local jurisdictions to participate. In 1973, Congress enacts a national law in reaction to the Arab oil embargo. The most recent change was in 2007, when DST began one month earlier in the spring and a week later in the fall.
However, throughout the DST lifecycle, there have been major opponents to its implementation. A lot of people think DST helps out farmers and agricultural workers, but they’ve been opposing it since way back in 1918. Most of their schedules and practices (like milking cows) need to happen on a consistent schedule, not necessarily at one specific hour, so changing the clock every few months can really throw off their game.
Here are some of the other reasons we should trash this tradition before the clock strikes midnight (which, thanks to DST, probably isn’t even midnight in most time zones. Unclear.)
Not everyone is using it.
The concept of standardizing time zones (or even creating a universal one) wouldn’t be impacted at all by dropping DST, especially since a huge portion of the planet doesn’t do it anyway. Europe and North America have almost universally adopted the practice, but the rest of the map is pretty bare. Hawaii and Arizona have also chosen to opt-out, and tons of countries that do use it have different dates of implementation, causing all kinds of confusion. Why can’t we all just get along (temporally)?
It’s not actually saving energy.
Way back when good old Ben Franklin was supporting DST, one of his arguments centered around extended candle use. He claimed that more people burned through more candles when evenings began earlier, so moving things an hour forward would decrease use of that resource and heighten productivity.
Spring forward a couple of centuries, and burning the midnight oil is more of an antiquated phrase than modern reality. With all our many screens and connected devices available at any time (not to mention high-maintenance heating and cooling preferences), our energy consumption no longer follows the direct path of the sun. National impact studies have shown negligible energy savings regarding DST, while a recent study in Indiana that focused on counties newly observing DST showed more energy consumption after the custom was adopted.
The energy saved by an hour less of lighting in the evening was easily erased by higher costs of air conditioning and light usage in the darker mornings. Environmental economist Hendrik Wolff told National Geographic “Everywhere there is air conditioning, our evidence suggest that daylight saving is a loser.”
It can make people sick.
Throwing off your natural routine, even by an hour, can seriously disturb your circadian rhythm, leading to sleep deprivation, crankiness, higher levels of stress, and a lack of focus. Besides catching one of those never-ending colds, all of these factors can lead to even more serious incidents than forgetting that super important report due at work.
It can even cause a spike in death rates.
The day after DST in both the fall and spring, fatal car crashes spike, likely due to the side effects described above. Workplace accidents and injuries are also more common in the days following the time change. In 2012, a UAB study showed that heart attacks surged up to 10% the day after springing forward. That’s a pretty deadly one hour.
Most of the pros are all about the money.
It’s true that that extra hour of daylight in the summer encourages Americans to get out of the house and pursue more summertime activities – like grilling, golfing, and recreational industries, whose special interest groups are huge proponents of DST along with the oil industry, because most Americans are spending more time and money driving to those places. In fact, the most recent change to extend DST into November was so that convenience stores could make more money on Halloween.