Daylight Saving Time: Everything You Need to Know

While mainly a western practice, Daylight Saving Time (DST) is a practice that has been used for some time in various parts of the world. The practice involves advancing clocks forward one hour in the summer in order to have daylight into the late hours of the day.

In autumn, the clock are turned back one hour to their original time. There are numerous positions on the subject and whether or not it is needed. There are those who advocate it, and those who would rather see it eliminated. Read on as we explore the practice and purpose of the time shift, the history of it, both sides of the argument, and how other countries have used it.

How DST is Observed Around the World

The United States and Europe are primarily where this practice is utilized. The practice in the U.S. is shifting the clocks forward at 2:00 A.M. The clocks go from 1:59 A.M. to 3:00 A.M. The day of the shift only has 23 hours as a result.

In the fall the clocks switching back which means that 1:59 A.M. becomes 1:00 A.M. thereby returning the hour that was lost. That particular day has 25 hours as a result of the shift. In Europe, the change occurs at 01:00 UTC therefore the autumn shift happens an hour later in that part of the world.

Digital clocks do not display the minute in between and perform this shift precisely at the change of the hour. Time Zones of course complicate matters. The European union battles this by shifting their clocks all at once (1:00 UTC, 2:00 CET, 3:00 EET for example). For the most part North America shifts at 2:00 A.M. regardless of time zones.

This does result in some oddities for a small period of time. For example, Mountain Time is zero hours ahead of Pacific time until they switch their own clocks. In some cases, the time and date could not be agreed upon, which resulted in chaotic switches in time. This was true for several districts in Australia.

In 2008, most of the districts shifted their clocks forward on October 5th, but Western Australia shifted theirs on October 26th. The start and end dates are different depending on the locations around the world. European Summer Time was implemented in 1996 and shifts their clocks on the last Sunday and March and back again on the last Sunday in October. Prior to this year, there were no uniform switch dates.

The United States made changes in 2007 as a result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. This bill had multiple effects, but specifically for DST the date was changed beginning in 2007 as an amendment to the Uniform Time Act of 1966. The date was changed to the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November.

For countries that observe DST in the southern hemisphere, the dates are almost reversed. An example would be Chile which observes DST from the second Saturday in October to the second Saturday in March. The time switch occurs at 24:00 local time.

Countries at the equator do not observe DST because the changes in time are extremely small there and do not justify a need for such a practice. In other countries, like Brazil, only portions of the population observe it based on the region they live in. Southern Brazil does have DST, but the north segment does not.

In general, a small percentage of the total world population observes DST because Asia and Africa do not in fact have any form of DST in place.

What is the Purpose of The Practice?

In modern society and especially in urban centers, the schedule for daily activities like work and school is set in place and never changes. These schedules influence other aspects of society like mass transit, business hours, and more.

In more rural areas these schedules are dictated by the amount of daylight. For farmers and agriculture based areas this is especially true. The changing seasons affect the schedule as well, the amount of daylight becomes shorter and longer over the course of a year as a result of the Earth’s axial tilt.

For those living around the tropics, daylight hours become longer in summer and shorter in winter. This effect is magnified as you move away from the tropics. Setting the clocks forward simultaneously at the beginning of the summer makes it so that people with a consistent schedule will wake up an hour earlier than usual.

This transitions into their whole schedule and results in an extra hour of daylight at the end of their daily routine. if this change were permanent, they would lose an hour of light during the winter months, which is why the clocks are switched back.

The exact time for sunrise and sunset changes at an equal rate over the course of the seasons, however those who support this practice argue that people would rather have extra daylight at the end of a typical “nine-to-five” day.

In addition, supporters of DST say that the practice lowers energy usage by reducing the need for light and heat. This stance is heavily disputed however and will be covered later in the article. In areas that are far away from the tropics, the sunrise and sunset changes are more profound. Despite attempts to change the clocks, these areas are unable to synchronize their work routines with the rising and setting of the sun.

Overall, the purpose of DST is meant to provide those with a rigid work schedule more time to enjoy each day as the length of each day gets shorter. In practice, it seems like a good way to keep everyone happy and on a consistent schedule, but there are those who argue against it.

The History of Daylight Saving Time

The concept of adjusting routines and schedules around the changing length of the day is something that dates back to ancient civilizations. The practice was more rudimentary of course, but they did adjust their daily routines to meet the amount of daylight. It was less complex in this early era.

In most cases the daylight was divided into twelve hours regardless of the day’s actual length. This resulted in longer daylight hours during the summer months. In ancient Rome, water clocks had varying scales for the months of the year to compensate for the change in day length.

Modern changes resulted in equally spaced hours which removed the need for varying hour lengths based on the seasons. There are still some places and settings where these unequal hours are used such as the Mount Athos monasteries and at Jewish ceremonies.

The modern versions of DST began with Benjamin Franklin. His English proverb related to the concept was: “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” During his time in Paris his anonymously published a letter suggesting that parisians save candles by rising earlier with the morning sunlight.

While the concept was a satire that also included ringing church bells and firing cannons at sunrise, the idea was there. It was not implemented however because at the time Europe did not have precise schedules in place. The need for standard time came later when railroads and communications became more advanced.

The first modern iteration of DST was suggested by a New Zealand entomologist by the name of George Vernon Hudson. his shift-work job had hours that allowed him to pursue his hobby of collecting insects. This led to his appreciation of sunlight hours after work.

In 1895 he wrote a paper and brought it to the attention of the Wellington Philosophical Society. He proposed a two-hour daylight-saving-shift which was implemented in Christchurch, New Zealand. A subsequent proposal was put forth by William Willett who many accredit with the concept of DST.

He separately created the idea in 1905 after watching London citizens sleeping away the daylight hours on a summer day’s pre-breakfast ride. He also noticed that he cut time from his golf rounds at dusk during the summer because of the shorter daylight hours. He decided that the solution would be to advance the clocks during summer months.

He published this concept in a proposal two years later which was noticed by Robert Pearce, a Liberal Member of Parliament. Robert brought a bill forward proposing DST to the House of Commons in 1908.  A committee was formed to review the proposal, but it did not become law. Willett continued to lobby for the proposal in the UK until his death in 1915.

Willett’s proposal had plenty of followers, but it also had a number of political issues tied to it. While many well-known and powerful individuals supported the bill like Balfour, Churchill, Edward VII, and the manager of the National Bank, there was significant opposition.

This came in the form of Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, in addition to the direction of the Meteorological Office and several agricultural groups. The bill was consistently turned down despite Willett submitting new bills every year from 1911 to 1914.

In the U.S. Andrew Peters introduced a bill proposing DST to the US House of Representatives in 1909 and it was quickly shot down. Germany and Austria-Hungary were the first to use DST in April of 1916 as a way to conserve their coal usage during World War I.

This changed everyone’s perspective on the issue. The United Kingdom began using DST in May of 1916 we well. While the U.S. still had opposition to the concept from railroad companies, they established DST in 1917 once the country entered WWI.

For the most part DST was no longer used in many countries after WWI. Of course, Canada, the UK, France and Ireland still used it. In various parts of the world it was brought back for small periods of time. It became widely used in the United States and Europe in the 1970s as a result of the 1970s energy crisis.

This energy crisis came about as a result of major shortages in petroleum which increased the prices. Exports from the Middle East were interrupted as a result of the Iranian Revolution. Since the resurgence of DST in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, there have been numerous changes and tweaks to the practice and procedure of the concept.

Post-War Politics and Opposition to DST

After the end of World War I, many of the previous supporters of DST returned to opposing it. Farmers in particular rallied against it and a number of countries canceled the practice when the war ended. Britain was an exception to the rule, they continued practicing it with small adjustments to the actual dates.

This adjustments were numerous and varied in reasoning. In the 1920s and 1930s there were changes made for example to ensure the clocks did not shift on Easter Morning. In the United States, Congress immediately repealed DST when the war ended. The President of the time, Woodrow Wilson, vetoed the repeal twice but he was eventually overridden.

Much of the U.S. stopped practicing DST, but a few cities still maintained it. New York for example continued to practice it for financial reasons; they needed Chicago and Cleveland, along with London, to remain in the same general time regardless of time zones and DST.

The next U.S. President, Warren G. Harding, was not a supporter of DST. He called it a “deception” and said that people should just get up and go to work earlier in the summer. He went so far as to change the work hours in Washington D.C to 8:00 A.M in the summer of 1922. It was a one time practice that was never repeated.

Throughout the ongoing years since Germany started using DST in World War I, there have been numerous political appeals and changes to the practice. Here are some notable events:

When it comes to DST, those who support the practice claim that is has a number of benefits. Everything from saving energy, to promoting outdoor activities. This side of the argument states that the practice is beneficial for psychological health and for reducing traffic, crime, and more.

Additionally, proponents of DST also cite that the practice is good for businesses and tourism industries who ultimately benefit for more daylight during their hours of business. The opposing side of the argument states that the perceived savings as a result of DST are inconclusive and negligible.

On the health spectrum, opponents state that it increases health risks by changing and interrupting established schedules. They argue that it disrupts the morning routine. It is their stance that DST is both economically and socially disruptive.

Overall, the advantages or lack thereof are not applicable to everyone community and culture. Depending on the climate, geography, culture, and light levels of a location, the results vary greatly. It is difficult to apply sweeping assumptions to the practice because of these various factors.

To better understand these arguments, we must dive into the specific issues and see what facts are available to argue both sides of the issue.

How DST Affects Various Elements of Society

Whether positive or negative, there’s no arguing that changing the clocks twice a year has its effects on various aspects of daily life. Whether it’s personal health, business, or energy usage, there are factors to consider when deciding the real value of the practice. Let’s dive into some specific elements and how they are affected by the time changes.

  1. Energy Usage

The idea of changing the clocks to save energy comes from the use of artificial light in households at night. This energy usage accounts for 3.5% of the United States and Canada’s energy consumption. DST’s time changes delay and sunset and sunrise times which theoretically would result in less energy usage.

Various studies have sought to validate this savings, and while some have found a small decrease in energy usage, most have found results that point to a very small or unnoticeable amount of savings. The most that was saved was less than 1%. Again, these results are from individual studies and don’t necessarily reflect the total effect of DST.

  1. Economic Changes

For businesses, the effects of DST are almost exclusively positive. This is because of the extra daylight hours encouraging shoppers to stay out and engage in outdoor activities. In 1984 Fortune magazine claimed that extending DST by 7-weeks would result in an addition $30 million for 7-Eleven stores.

The National Golf Foundation estimated that such an extension would raise their revenues from $200 million to $300 million. On the other side of the equation, DST is opposed by farmers and parents who have a schedule based around the rising and setting of the sun. Specifically the practice is opposed by dairy and grain farmers. Grain is best harvested after the morning dew evaporates and the schedule change conflicts with that.

For cows, the time they are milked needs to be consistent, and the change in schedule also affects this aspect of farming. Movie Theaters and television broadcasts are also financially hurt by the changes in time. Increased costs come from monitoring digital and computer applications to ensure they change accordingly.

  1. Public Health

For those working on a fixed schedule, DST has positive effects on health because it allows those people to have more time to outdoor exercise in the sunlight. Of course, sunlight is best absorbed in small doses to avoid skin cancer. In some cases, DST has helped with depression by motivating people to wake up earlier.

On the other side of the equation however is the fact that shifts in the clocks disrupt sleep and circadian rhythms. These disruptions can be jarring and long-lasting. Studies showed that clock shifts increased the risk of heart attack by 10 percent overall because of these sleep disruptions.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that Daylight Saving Time is a divisive practice. There’s no arguing that it has a deep level of complexity attached to it in terms of coordination across time zones, and taking into account that not everyone observes the practice equally. The standard length of a day is also affected, sometimes being more or less than 24 hours.

Most modern technological devices have the practice built in to automatically switch the time backwards or forwards depending on the time of year. Still many other devices require the change to be done manually. The constant changes in the practice have resulted in several accidents and potential problems over the years.

With each change in the time or date, software must be modified to accommodate these new rules so that medical and industrial systems comply accordingly. Ultimately the worthiness of this practice is in dispute but with the given information, is it possible to draw your own conclusions on the matter.