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Time is a strange thing. I'm not talking about the concept of time the way Einstein would think about it, but the time on the clocks. What the clocks around the world tell us is only something that we have all agreed upon. There is no natural 1:37 pm, it's a human construct. And, as such, we can magically make it be 12:37 pm if we want to. But we have to agree on it. And this agreed-upon change happens twice a year in parts of America. In much of America today, people are once again trying to remember how to set their wristwatches and stove clocks ahead one hour. Why? Because last night we started daylight saving time for 2007. But how did this time change start? Do we all benefit equally from the change? And what does this have to do with green cars? And why did we "spring forward" three weeks earlier this year and will "fall back" a week later in the year?

All will be answered after the break.
If there is one easy way to think about why we do the daylight saving ritual every year, it's that the move saves energy. Just look at how the California Energy Commission explains daylight saving time: "One of the biggest reasons we change our clocks to Daylight Saving Time (DST) is that it saves energy. Energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting our homes is directly connected to when we go to bed and when we get up. Bedtime for most of us is late evening through the year. When we go to bed, we turn off the lights and TV."

How can one argue with that? Well, Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time can. As he told NPR that the idea that more daylight equals energy savings is a crock.

"I'm certainly not a fan of the idea that it save energy," he said. "It turns out that every time Congress has studied it, it's been told that we haven't saved anything. In fact, the best study we have is from the Nixon era when he went on a desperate attempt of year-round daylight saving as a result of the OPEC oil embargo and he came up with nothing by way of saving except the potential again. Here's the problem with daylight saving as an energy saver: we tend to want our computers and our televisions and our radios when we want them. More important, daylight saving really pushed Americans out of the house at the end of the day. And when Americans go out of the house, they may go to the ballpark, they may go to the mall, but they don't walk there. They get into their cars. Daylight saving increased gasoline consumption, something the petroleum industry has known since 1930. ... This has been [a] tremendously effective spending policy. Retail stores love daylight saving. Because when we have an hour of sunlight after work, Americans tend to go shopping. The first and most persistent lobby for daylight saving in this country was the Chamber of Commerce, because they understood that if their department stores were lit up, people would be tempted by them. In 1986, Congress gave us an extra month of daylight saving time. That's when we went from six to seven months, which is the period we've been living with recently. In that Congressional hearing, [the] golf industry alone, these are industry estimates, told Congress one additional month of daylight saving was worth 200 million dollars in sales of golf clubs and greens fees. The BBQ industry said it was worth 100 million dollars in additional sales of grills and charcoal briquettes. ... For 25 years, the candy industry has wanted to get Halloween covered by daylight saving, figuring that if children have an extra hour of daylight, they'll collect more candy. In fact, they went so far during the 1985 hearings on daylight saving as to put candy pumpkins on the seat of every Senator hoping to get a little favor. They didn't get it then, but they got it this time." (Note this is my own transcription, not NPR's. I think I got everything right, but, you know...)

For an extended timeline of the history of daylight saving time, click here. One interesting corporate announcement that came across my virtual desk this week is from Lowe's, which combines the energy saving idea with the shopping message in 12 easy steps. Lowe's gives prices and product numbers and estimated energy savings for these projects.

The California Energy Commission does say that "studies done in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent EACH DAY with Daylight Saving Time," but that doesn't take total energy use (including transportation fuel) into account. Another study quoted on the page does: "Based on consumption figures for 1974 and 1975, The Department of Transportation says observing Daylight Saving Time in March and April saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day." But, as National Geographic reported in 2005 when the current extension of daylight saving time was being debated in Congress, in 2001, then-acting deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy Linda Lawson said these old studies might not be all that applicable in the new century.

"I want to note that these studies are over 25 years old and were limited in scope," she said. "Congress captured many of the benefits identified in our studies in the legislative changes to daylight saving time enacted in 1986. There have been dramatic changes in lifestyle and commerce since we completed our studies that raise serious questions about extrapolating conclusions from our studies into today's world."

David Prerau authored some of those old studies and recently wrote a pro-daylight saving time book, "Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time." He stands by the claim of a one percent energy reduction when daylight saving time is in effect. Downing says that has never been established, and the idea that America will save 100,000 barrels-of-oil a day with more waking daylight is "impossible, not just implausible."

So, where are we at now? There are now eight months of daylight saving time and only four or "standard" time a year. According to Downing, Congress has set aside $150 million to study the issue. This is not the end of the discussion, that's for sure.

[Source: NPR, Scripps News Service, National Geographic]


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  • 21 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      As for hydrogen fuel, I don't see how it could ever be a viable source of energy. Hydrogen comes from water, which there is plenty of. However, it takes electricity to extract hydrogen from the water, but fuel is needed to make the electricity. Where does the fuel come from? Hydrogen? You're in an endless loop. If you use fossil fuel to make the electricity to make the hydrogen fuel, you haven't gained anything.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Excellent Article. I didn't think too much of daylight savings time before, but this has got me interested. Sadly, as expected, I wasn't surprised to see that so many facets of our lifestyle are controlled by lobbyists.

      I always imagined that other countries also implement daylight savings time. If so, what are the reports of efficiency from those nations?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Just today, one of my younger (and brighter) violin students remarked that she didn't understand how daylight saving time helped save energy. I told her that it didn't, and that a lot of things politicians did were nonsense, including daylight saving time.

      Just add that to the list that includes support for ethanol and hydrogen.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I actually came up with my own reasoning for dst yrs ago, b4 i knew about the energy saving crap. During the summer the sun is out and shining at 5:30am, if we didnt push it forward it would be out at 4:30am, too early for me. During the winter its out at 6:30 sometimes 7, if we didnt push it back it would be 7:30 or 8. I dont wanna be in my office and still waiting for the sun.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "Just add that to the list that includes support for ethanol and hydrogen."

      Hydrogen yes, corn-ethanon, yeah, non-corn ethanol, you're way off base.

      Are you retarded, or insanely stupid?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Ethanol is viable for brazil cuz of their sugarcane crops, but not US. we have corn, which is expensive to make ethanol out of. I think we are better importing it from brazil

      Hydrogen is a false promise. one common argument: "15 years ago, they said it'll be ready in 15 years". Because H-fuel is always the light at the end of the tunnel, it is used as a stalling method by politicans to calm down and shut up environmentalists

      About DST. if energy savings is that important, they'd make us work from night to morning, and sleep in the daytime.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Daylight savings time is a joke, either way you go there are only 24 hours in the day. Just because we change our clocks does not mean a thing.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I agree with the article. Is there a place or person people like us can contact to repeal DST?

      We need a national movement that will probably be on a grassroots level.
      • 7 Years Ago
      There are many good reasons to implement DST, not just energy savings. Even if there were no energy savings at all, it would be worth it to me to have an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day. Here are some issues some may not have been thought of: 1. During standard time in the spring, people drive into direct sunlight, and drive home into the sun in the evening. DST pushes the rush hour back an hour, so people go to work before sunup, and come home when it's still high enough to not be in their eyes. This not only makes rush hour driving safer, but reduces the MAJOR delays caused by the sun. This saves fuel. 2. More time in the evening means more family activities. When people get home after dark, they tend to watch too much TV. 3. For those who routinely work late, and deal with long commutes, getting home after dark every day is degrading and depressing. You feel like a slave after awhile. That extra hour of daylight in the evening makes you "feel like" you're getting off work earlier, and provides a huge moral boost to those of us workaholics. 3. Studies on crime actually show a reduction in violent crime during DST. For crimes where darkness is a factor, many more incidents occur after dusk than before dawn, so the extra hour of daylight is more welcome in the evening. The biggest reason for me is that I just like it! It's depressing to drive to work in the sun, it's depressing to get home after dark, and I think Daylight Saving Time rocks! If it were up to me, I would implement it year-round.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Ah! Time.
      Here's two examples that everybody can readily identify with, two high profile things.
      Everyone remembers exactly where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated, and I'm one of them.
      I was on the number one court playing tennis. Rod Flaxman, the coordinator of our junior tennis club poked his head out of the office door and yelled at the top of his voice, 'They've just shot President Kennedy.'
      He did this immediately following the 9AM news on Saturday morning 23rd November, and it was at the Queens Park Tennis Club in Southport, Queensland Australia. In those days, it took about two hours or so for the news to reach Australia and be compiled for the morning news.
      The second one I vividly remember was Neil Armstrong's moon landing. I was just about to clean out the Apprentice Club, and a bunch of guys were gathered around the television. Eager to put off a job that was going to take me a couple of hours I joined them and watched, fascinated, the live footage from the moon's surface as Neil took that 'one small step.'
      The time was just after 8 AM Monday morning July 21, At RAAF base Wagga Wagga, New South Wales Australia.
      History states the actual time of those 2 happenings as being Nov 22, and July 20, but they actually happened to me a day later, and to people in Europe, it was a different time again.
      So, the time is noted as being where the event actually happened. (What was the time on the moon, then? They ran on Eastern Time, the time at Kennedy, as they called Canaveral in those days.)
      Time is relative to where you actually are on the planet.
      So, Daylight saving time starts as it ends in the US and ends just after it starts in the US, and that daylight saving is different again depending on how far North or South you are, curvature of the Earth and all.
      DST will not work on the Equator because it is light and then it is dark. Blink blink.
      In Alaska, there is light and dark also, but between that are numerous hours of half light, gradually diminishing to darkness.
      See the point? Time is relative on where you are, as are daylight savings times.
      It's not about saving energy. It's all about money.
      Sorry to take so much space.
      Tony.
      • 8 Years Ago

      It seems to me that if studies do exist proving that DSL saves energy, that means we do have evidence that it saves energy. I agree with the poster who pointed out that we save a lot of electricity on air conditioning because office A/C doesn't need to kick in until later in the day.

      Besides, it just makes sense. There's lots of evidence that energy peak hours come after people get home from work. If they don't need to turn on the lights as soon, that means energy will be saved.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "2. Why don't we end this once and for all by making *every* day daylight savings time?"

      In the event you are not joking... you do understand that it depends on the position of the path of the sun during various times of year?

      Daylight savings time is meant to have us up and active when there is more light. Shifting our day to match the changing times of the sun during the year. I'm sure it saves energy if we still used sun as a major light source. Now it might not, but it is still about giving us more time in the sun during "work" hours.

      Which, of course I find hilarious because I work a night job! :-)
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