Why The Senate's Plan For Getting Rid Of Daylight Savings Time Actually Sucks
If you’ve been grumpy this week after losing an hour of precious sleep thanks to the annual “spring forward” caused by Daylight Savings Time, you’re not alone. Apparently, members of the U.S. Senate felt similarly about their shortened slumber. With a speed and efficiency rarely known within Congress, they quickly passed a bill proposing the elimination of the twice-yearly switch. However, lest we ever truly feel that Congress has our best interests at heart, they decided to do it in the stupidest way possible: not by eliminating Daylight Savings Time, but by making it year round. The bill still needs to pass the House, but it's significant.
It’s unlikely tears will be shed at the idea of not having to reset your microwave clock twice a year, or spending a week wrangling your circadian rhythms every spring and fall. It’s not exactly a popular phenomenon. Plus, as we’ve previously explored, the concept of Daylight Savings Time is an antiquated wartime phenomenon that was originally developed to save on electricity. A strategy that doesn’t even make sense anymore because of how much American energy consumption habits, and the relative power demand of lighting, has changed.
In fact, there’s scientific research proving that not only is it an obsolete idea, but an actively harmful one, accomplishing the precise opposite of its original intent. Indiana was a state that did not observe Daylight Savings Time until the year 2006. This switch helpfully provided a perfect environment to track the effects of Daylight Savings Time on energy usage, something sorely needed when the last time they decided these things was in WORLD WAR 1. It might bear re-examining energy based decisions that were made not long after Edison was still electrocuting elephants to demonize alternating current.
When they did this research, lo and behold, it did indeed show that the needle had swung not only closer to center, but entirely to the other side. The calculations made back then were based on a time where the power used for lighting was a significant factor in a household’s electricity usage. Nowadays, lighting is a much smaller slice of that pie chart, with electronics and air conditioning usage dwarfing it. Air conditioning, in particular, is put to use more frequently after work during DST because it’s warmer when people return home. They found that just the state of Indiana spent an extra $9 million annually by the implementation of Daylight Savings Time, not to mention greater pollution. So why has it survived so long?
You don’t have to look too far to realize where the motivations for modern Daylight Savings might lie. Unsurprisingly to anyone living in the United States, money, specifically the transference of it from consumers to corporations, is central. Basically, more light later in the day encourages people to go out and spend money shopping/eating/consuming in general, after they’ve spent their day spinning at the base of the economy like a good little gear.
So here, you might be glancing back up at the title of the article, thinking that this sure sounds like an argument for removing the switch, which is what Senate is doing, right? Sort of. I’m wholly on board with removing the twice-yearly adjustment. My problem is that they have chosen to do this in the worst way possible: by making Daylight Savings Time PERMANENT. Previously, half the year was spent in Standard Time, and half in Daylight Time. This move would make Daylight Time the new standard time, instead of making Standard Time… standard. If that seems needlessly complicated and counter-intuitive, you’re simply not thinking with as many dollar signs in your eyes as lawmakers are.
Before we even get to the scientific reasons this is unwise (and scientists pretty much roundly agree on that) let’s just think about the PITA factor of this change. PITA, of course, standing for Pain In The Ass. One perhaps unintended effect of making Daylight time permanent would be removing a temporary time-keeping quirk from interactions, and, in essence, creating new horizontal time zones layered on top of traditional vertical time zones, like a nightmarish horological checkerboard.
Let’s look at a practical example: The country of Brazil also chose to do away with Daylight Savings Time in the year 2019. When doing so, they switched to Standard Time, because that actually makes sense. If this change were to go through, the city of Rio Branco, which exists in the same time zone as New York City, instead of being out of sync for half the year, would now consistently be an hour behind New York City, similar longitude be damned.
It’s worth considering Canada’s response as well. Canada has historically mirrored the DST habits of the U.S. for fairly obvious reasons, to easily facilitate trade and business between the two countries. If passed by the House, the onus then falls on them to ALSO change entirely to Daylight Savings Time, in order to maintain this. If not, now we are in a situation where someone driving from Albany, NY to Montreal, despite driving only 3-4 hours almost due north, will be changing time zones.
If Canada DOES feel enough pressure to make the nationwide switch as well, we end with what is now pretty much a time zone change made by crossing a LATITUDE line between South America and North America. If you are developing a stress headache from reading these last two paragraphs, you understand exactly the sheer infuriating scope of complication that could arise here. If instead, we switched to consistent STANDARD TIME, well, whoa! Time zones would still be consistent longitudinally, almost as if they were created based on the Earth’s revolution.
So besides being an absolute &^#&ing mess, it turns out that scientists are also disappointed, and perhaps confused, as to why we wouldn’t switch to standard time in this situation. This is backed by the American Institute of Sleep Medicine, who warn that choosing DST could have long-term effects on Americans’ health. Dr. Karin Johnson, Associate Professor of Neurology at UMass Chan Medical School-Baystate, goes as far as to say, “We’re disappointed, especially given the overwhelming scientific and health feeling that this is a bad idea.”
The chair of the neuroscience department at the O’Donnell Brain Institute at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Joseph Takahashi, put it in even plainer terms: “Daylight saving time, in terms of the medical and health consequences, is the worst choice It leaves us permanently out of sync with the natural environment.” These thoughts originate from the idea that standard time, shockingly, is actually BASED ON THE SUN. It was calculated so that humans would receive the correct amount of sunlight in the morning and have an appropriate amount of darkness at night to produce the necessary melatonin for sleep.
We should absolutely get rid of the repeated switches into and out of Daylight Savings Time. However, when choosing the time standard to follow going forward, we have two choices: one, time-tested, implemented globally, calculated and designed around the movement of the earth and its rhythms. Two, a fake time zone invented 100 years ago to save money during war, that makes sure people are more likely to spend money on patio drinks during happy hour.
It’s not exactly surprising which one our government is a fan of. Make Standard time just that: the standard.
Top Image: Pixabay/Wikipedia