What does daylight saving really mean to us in our daily lives? Longer leisurely evening strolls, outdoor dinner BBQs, patio toasts or perhaps post-dinner ice cream trips that stretch into the eight o’clock margin… Many of us do not put much stock into the time change that allows us to jump ahead one hour each spring, thus affording us to exchange longer daylight evening hours for shorter mornings. However daylight saving time, (DST) which begins on March 11th this year, has a dynamic and deserving history that accompanies a slew of complications, controversies and challenges.
Although the idea of daylight saving was first alluded to by Benjamin Franklin in his 1784 publication of a satirical letter proposing shutter tax, candle rationing and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing canons, 18th-century Europe did not adhere to precise schedules and therefore DST was not of critical importance. The requirement for a standardization of time however came with the development of rail and communication networks following the Industrial Revolution, whereby New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson first propositioned DST in his 1895 paper presented to the Wellington Philosophical Society. Curiously enough, a decade later, William Willett, a prominent English builder and outdoorsman, independently conceived the modern notion of DST and published his proposal, which was fortuitously taken up by a Liberal Member of Parliament and introduced as the first Daylight Saving Bill to the House of Commons in 1908. Although Pearce’s bill along with several others did not become law until some years later, it created a readily available platform deferrable to the outbreak of the First World War, which saw the critical implementation of DST among many European nations, in efforts to alleviate hardships from wartime coal shortages and air raid blackouts. The United States followed in suit and adopted daylight saving time in 1918. However since such time, the world has seen many enactments, adjustments, and repeals, as the practice has been both highly celebrated and criticized.
A simple justification for daylight saving time is that it helps society synchronize mechanical clock time to natural time. Additionally, extending daylight to evenings has been argued beneficiary for all industries and activities that exploit sunlight after working hours such as sports and retail. Proponents generally contend that while modern society operates on standard time rather than on solar time, it is more advantageous to have longer hours of sunlight during the more active periods of the day, (assuming most people sleep in the early morning hours and stay up later in the evenings). Moreover advocates claim that DST saves energy, reduces traffic accidents and crime, is good for business and promotes outdoor leisure activity in the evening, therefore benefiting physical and psychological health, as well as helping those with seasonal affective disorder and depression. However pundits have dubbed it “daylight slaving time,” while its opponents claim that DST essentially disrupts sleep and morning activities, (reducing efficiency) and is economically and socially disruptive. Research on the effectiveness of DST and energy consumption is limited or contradictory whereas modern heating and cooling patterns differ significantly depending on culture, region and geography, while its effects on crime and general health are even less defined. Furthermore DST presents other challenges whereby timekeeping becomes more problematic, disrupting daily schedules, travel, billing recording-keeping, medical devices, heavy equipment and sleep patterns. Yet the most compelling argument against DST might be the effect it has on our circadian rhythm, a physical, mental and behavioral pattern within the brain and body that follows a 24 hour cycle responding primarily to light and darkness. Studies have shown that effects on seasonal adaptation of the circadian rhythm can be severe and last for weeks, while disrupted circadian rhythms can alter sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions. For these such reasons, the government of Kazakhstan abolished DST in 2005 citing “health complications,” while last March, the president of Russia, Dmitri Medvedev, declared that Russia would stay in DST year-round, to abolish the “stress of changing clocks.” This declaration was chorused shortly after by Iceland and Belarus. In the United Kingdom, while the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents supports the observance of DST, other industries such as postal workers and farmers and predominantly those living in northern regions are opposed.
There are many things to consider when reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of daylight saving time, such as energy use, economic effects, public safety and health and the sheer complexity of execution. A move to “permanent daylight saving time,” now implemented in several jurisdictions, is sometimes advocated, however, many remain unconvinced of the benefits. Whether or not you are for or against daylight saving time, this Sunday we will nevertheless experience a change on our clocks. However daylight saving time is not just about changing our clocks one hour ahead, rather it is a hallmark in the calendar that celebrates the start of springtime, the beginning of a new season and stands as a reminder of the curious and wondrous workings of our natural world.