As we turn the clocks back in many parts of the US and world this weekend, as part of the seasonal fall ritual, I have to wonder: what exactly is the point of all this? The answer, we are told, is simple: the switchover to and from Daylight Savings Time "saves energy."
OK, is there any way to prove this with a reasonable level of confidence? And what are the costs—tangible and otherwise—of this switchover?
I've done some research, and there are studies which purport to demonstrate that the semiannual switchover does indeed save energy, there are some which claim there are no savings, and there are even some which show it actually adds to energy usage.
Reality is that all of these studies are very suspect, rely on decades-old data (some of them are 40 years old and more; do you think that lifestyles and technology have perhaps changed?), are done by people with a bias (why? What's in it for them?), or are fairly unscientific, because there is really no way to run a properly controlled and documented experiment. My conclusion: we have no idea if the switchover saves anything at all, is neutral, or is a net loss.
Another argument is that somehow this changing of the clocks is a safety issue, for those children waiting in the dark for the school bus. Really? How many children are we talking about, and where are they? It's as if the concept of "children waiting for the bus" is one that some folks want to be nostalgic about, more than its reality. It's supposedly good for the farmers, too—except that the percentage of people engaged in farming in very, very small in the 21st century. Finally, an even more elusive argument is that it's "tradition" and a link to our past. Well, it's a pretty weak link, I think, and not a tradition with too much meaning or import.
Let's look at daylight savings time another way, in terms of cost. A typical household has over 20 clocks, both standalone or embedded in ovens, coffee machines, thermostats, and cars (don't believe me? Go around and count yours). Some of these are remotely or automatically settable from a central location; but many have to be changed manually. That's a lot of time wasted. Or just go to a school, for example, and find out how much time the custodial staff must spend twice a year to change all the clocks in the building. Even computer-based systems have to be programmed to adjust on the right date, and that means there is potential for error (which happens quite often, as the switchover date keeps changing).
There's also the disruptive factor. For about a week after we turn the clocks either way, many people are out of sync with themselves and their surroundings. Traffic is worse for a while, and there are more accidents, as it takes a few days for people to adjust to their new cicada rhythm. Of course, there are the people who miss appointments and connections because they were off by an hour, or are traveling to places that haven't yet made the switch (in the US, although it is mostly a state-by-state decision, there are some localities that "opt out").
Historically, daylight savings time was proposed by Benjamin Franklin as a way to maintain agricultural productivity and reduce the need for costly candles (they really were a major household expense, back in the day). People rose and worked with the sun, and wound their days down as the sun set. As for resetting their clocks and watches: that wasn't a problem, since most people didn’t own one. They assessed time by the sun, or by the sound of church bells.
But that was then, and this is now. We live by electric lights, we live 24/7, we don't start our day with the sun and end it as darkness approaches. To steal a quote from Einstein: "everything has changed, except our way of thinking."
So here's my proposal: do away with Daylight Savings Time altogether. It's an empty, possibly counterproductive gesture to "saving energy". If people in some areas are worried about the children waiting in the dark for the school bus, they can just start school an hour later. After all, the numbers we assign to the clock and to appointments are human creations and artifacts, which we can redefine and re-label as needed.
[Doing that would be like a technique used in numerical and quantitative analysis, when you run into an equation with a set of variables that eludes solution. You redefine the variables to something you can work with or introduce a new one (for example, the Lagrange multipler), solve the equation, and then unwind the redefinition. Problem solved!]
That's my suggestion for avoiding the need for the cumbersome switchover which probably doesn't accomplish its claimed goal of "saving energy" but persists primarily due to momentum and myth.
What do you think about Daylight Savings Time? Does it save energy, use more, or is it neutral? Is the headache worth the undefinable gain, if any?♦