Overnight, most of us in the United States went through our annual ritual of setting our clocks one hour ahead (the exceptions are Hawaii and the non-Navajo Reservation areas of Arizona). Welcome to DST, Daylight Saving Time, or, as I prefer to call it, Daylight Stupid Time.
Benjamin Franklin is often credited with originating the idea, to save candle wax.
Why do we do this every year? Supposedly, it is to save energy. Benjamin Franklin is often credited with originating the idea, to save candle wax. However, Franklin wasn’t serious about it. While he was envoy to France, Franklin wrote a satirical piece encouraging Parisians to rise earlier in the day, to make use of the light of the sun. Ostensibly, this would cause people to retire earlier in the evening, requiring less burning of candles. In his piece, Franklin suggested taxing candles and window shutters, and proposed the firing of cannons and ringing of church bells to awaken Parisians early in the day.
The first time DST was invoked as a serious energy-saving measure was during the First World War. Congress deemed this necessary by the emergency of the war. The practice was repeated in the Second World War (WWII). Both experiments were during spring and summer months, reverting to Standard Time (ST) in autumn and winter. Shortly after WWII, communities gradually began observing DST as a local custom. As the practice grew, there was much confusion, as in some parts of the country a patchwork of different times (DST and ST) arose, often with different dates of observance of DST. This prompted Congress to pass the Uniform Time Act in 1966, establishing consistent dates of observance of DST. Congress has amended this act several times to change the effective dates. The Act always permitted states to exempt themselves, something that several states originally did, but only two do so now. There was one other time that Congress thought that an emergency required action with regard to time. In response to the OPEC oil embargo late in 1973, Congress authorized year-round DST early in 1974. Year-round DST proved to be unpopular, but the practice continued through the following winter.
I’ve never understood how this supposedly saves energy. Sure, we leave our lights off an hour later in the day, but then we must leave lights on an hour later in the morning. It’s sort of like cutting a foot off the end of a rope and tying the foot-long piece onto the other end of the rope. What’s the point? Here’s the real reason we play this game with our clocks each year: it’s a monument to recreation. Adding an hour of daylight after school or work leaves more time to play outdoors (adults included).
In my years of teaching astronomy at the university, I discussed the measurement of time, historically one of the most important functions of astronomy. Eventually I’d get to DST, and I’d let my students know of my displeasure with it. Occasionally, one of my students would challenge my opinion. Students are normally passive in the classroom, so I welcomed any kind of interaction. I fondly remember politely arguing DST with one particular student before the entire class. Finally, I suggested that we not monkey around with our clocks but instead do everything an hour earlier. For instance, if you had a class at 8:00 a.m., start the class at 7:00 a.m. The student quickly protested, “No, that’s too early!” His friends were amused. OK, I was amused too. The other tack that I’d take was to suggest that we go all out and add three or four hours to our clocks instead of just one. Most seemed to think that was a bad idea, but they seemed not to have a problem with just one hour.
When traveling, many people find it difficult to adjust to any time zone change, even if it’s only a one-hour difference. However, we subject ourselves to this experience twice a year without even the benefit of taking a trip. Numerous studies have shown a decrease in productivity and an increase in accidents and even death the few days after our semiannual time changes. If we were talking about a consumer product, there would be lawsuits, threats of Congressional investigation, and certainly a ban of the product, yet the carnage continues twice a year unabated.
My opposition to DST is primarily motivated by two professional objections.
However, my opposition to DST is primarily motivated by two professional objections. During summer months, the longer duration of daylight already makes it difficult for most people to stay up late enough to enjoy astronomy. Adding an extra hour to that makes it harder still. Here in northern Kentucky, we ought to be in the Central Standard Time (CST) Zone, but we’re in the Eastern Standard Time (EST) Zone. This area was originally on CST, but it shifted to EST before I was born (I suspect it was shortly after WWII). Why was that? The decision was driven by much the same recreation-driven desire for DST, to extend evening daylight. If we kept CST, local noon and midnight would be at 11:39, only 21 minutes off CST. But since we keep EST, local noon and midnight occur at 12:39, putting us off EST by 39 minutes. . Therefore, we effectively are already on DST year-round. By adding another hour to our clocks, noon and midnight don’t occur at 12:00, but nearly 1:45. In late June and early July, the sun doesn’t set until after 9:00 p.m. The sky doesn’t get totally dark until after 11:00 p.m., though it’s dark enough to do some astronomy as early as 10:00 p.m. Stargazer’s Nights at the Creation Museum generally start in the planetarium before going outside to the observatory about an hour later. Therefore, we usually start the Stargazer’s Nights at 9:00 p.m. during the summer (when most of the programs take place). We sometimes have groups that book private Stargazer’s Nights well in advance. I understand that on more than one occasion a leader of such a group has called, noting that a 9:00 p.m. start for a likely two-hour program is late in the day and wondering if we could start earlier, say at 7:00 p.m. Our staff must explain that if we did that, two hours after we started the program, the sun would still be in the sky. It’s a good thing I don’t take those calls, because I’d probably finish the explanation with, “How’s that Daylight Stupid Time working out for you?”
My second objection is that the measurement of time, like any other measurement of physical quantities, is objective, so we shouldn’t so cavalierly fudge those measurements. Though most people see the problem with arbitrarily altering such measurements, they don’t quite grasp the problem of doing so with time measurement. Therefore, a couple of years ago, I began illustrating the absurdity of DST by adding six inches to my height when we add an hour to our clocks, and subtracting the six inches from my height when we revert to normal time. For many years, I had been 5’7” tall, but this morning I’m 6’1”, and I will be for nearly eight months. So, if you moved your clocks an hour ahead overnight, and if you see me soon, I hope you’ll notice the difference in my height.
The time tyranny ends November 4.