6 Myths About Daylight Saving Time

If you’ve been keeping up, Daylight Saving Time is one of my pet peeves. We began the farce again early this morning.

One reason we keep doing it is because governments are loathe to undo anything they’ve done, no matter how silly it later turns out to be. Another reason, I suspect, is that media outlets dutifully report twice every year: “Don’t forget to reset your clocks tonight!” — I’ve seen a few articles that question the wisdom of this event, but most just remind us that it’s coming and others add in an alleged reason for it.

Broken pocket watch
(Copyright © 2011 by Wil C. Fry.)

◊ Myth 1: DST Saves Daylight

The very name of Daylight Saving Time is an untruth. You can no more “save daylight” than you can save yesterday. The clock isn’t like a stamp collector’s album where you can indeed save stamps. The word “saving” in DST is more like the word “savings” in advertisements for retail stores: “Check out our savings!” (you’re not actually saving money if you’re spending money).

Daylight, by the time you see it, was expelled from the sun eight minutes earlier — it’s already been lost by the time the photons smash into your retinas, having bounced off trillions of dust particles in our atmosphere. Some of the electromagnetic radiation turns to heat, absorbed by various materials around the planet, and some of it bounces away into space as reflected light. But none of it is “saved”.

◊ Myth 2: DST Adds Daylight

(Copyright © 2008 by Wil C. Fry.)

This Alabama weather forecast is just one example. The headline promises: “Warmth and sunshine forecast for the extra hour of daylight Sunday”.

Two days ago, The Examiner noted ignorantly: “Yes, it’s almost that time of year to ‘spring ahead’ those clocks to enjoy an extra hour of daylight each day.”

The article later gets closer to the truth, saying it’s only an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day. But that’s like the old story I heard as a child about the cowboy whose blanket was too short, so he cut a portion off one end and sewed it onto the other end.

The day is exactly the same length no matter what your clock says. If you want a longer day, you’ll need to change latitudes or wait until closer to the summer solstice. If you want a shorter day, try living in a deep valley or keeping your calendar on December. Changing your clock cannot possibly affect the length of a day.

◊ Myth 3: DST Saves Energy

Government officials often cite “energy savings” as a reason for Daylight Saving Time. However, a Congressional study from 2007 (here, .pdf format) noted that there’s no real proof of energy savings today, even if there was originally (something that is still in doubt).

When first implemented in any widespread way, electric lights were the primary domestic destination for electricity. This is no longer so, as electric heat and air conditioning, electric ovens, electric laundry machines, and other devices consume something like 99% of the energy in the average U.S. home. And lights are on (in most homes) regardless of whether it’s light or dark outside.

Centennial Clock in Wewoka, Okla.
(Copyright © 2008 by Wil C. Fry.)

◊ Myth 4: DST Helps The Economy

Just a few minutes of thinking about this, and you could come up with a few businesses that might be helped by more evening daylight. But take a few more minutes and you can think of others that would be harmed by it. (And, just by using logic, you could figure out that my dollar spent at X business is a dollar I didn’t spend at Y business, so it all evens out.)

It’s likely more supportable (though still disputed) that Daylight Saving Time actually costs more than it helps, especially when the dates are changed by legislation. Computer software has to be updated any time there’s a change, for example. But even if the dates remain the same every year, there are countless costs — mostly in manhours — to businesses and government offices.

Even though the time change takes place at 2 a.m. on Sunday morning — the time least likely to disrupt the average business or government office — the clocks still have to be changed. Some janitor or low-level manager has to go around changing them. Inevitably, some small percentage of employees forget to change their clocks at home and show up late on Monday morning (even higher percentage at businesses that are open Sunday morning).

Here’s an example of the silliness:

I managed a grocery store night crew for several years. Our shift was 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. and our hour “lunch” break was usually from 2-3 a.m., though it varied depending on how our assignments were coming along. Every spring, I’d have to call all the employees to the front of the store at exactly 2 a.m., and make sure everyone clocked out before I set the time clock (and the store’s computer clock) forward to 3 a.m. By the time we all clocked back in after an hour’s lunch, it was 4 a.m.

In the fall, we’d do the same thing, except that by the time we all clocked in after lunch, it looked like we’d taken a one-minute lunch break. (And I had to work an hour without getting paid, because someone had to run the cash register for customers, and I couldn’t clock in during the hour that was repeating itself.)

Small stuff, really, but disruptive and tedious. Repeating this at a thousand businesses across the country is asinine.

Wall clock
(Copyright © 2005 by Wil C. Fry.)

◊ Myth 5: The Whole World Does It

Less than half the countries on Earth currently use DST, and dozens of them never have. Ones that have stopped include some of the world’s most populous nations: China, India, and Russia. And the fourth-most populous nation, Indonesia, has never used Daylight Saving Time. That’s more than a third of the world’s people, just in those four nations.

Even in the U.S., some states do not observe it, including Hawaii and Arizona (though some Native American reservations do observe it within Arizona). Several U.S. territories are in the tropics and do not observe DST.

Several other states have seen movements to stop DST, but they’ve failed so far. In southern regions like (my current home state) Texas and Florida, many critics (including myself) point out that it’s already daylight very late in the day during the summer. With our clocks set forward for DST, the sun doesn’t go down until after 9 p.m. and it’s still light enough to drive without headlights until about 9:30 p.m. If anything, we’d like DST in the winter, when it gets dark at 5 p.m.

The bulk of South America and Australia doesn’t observe it, and most of Africa never has. (Of course, for the locales south of the Equator, if they ever observed DST, it would be in different months than we use, since their winter is during our summer, and vice versa.)

◊ Myth 6: It Would Be Too Difficult To Stop It

I’ve never actually seen or heard anyone say this, but it’s the only conceivable reason why we’re still doing it: inertia. Many of us have lived our entire lives with DST and don’t really think about it anymore except twice a year when the news tells us to change our clocks.

I stipulate that it might not be easy, but it would certainly be easier than starting it in the first place, and we’d only have to do it once. Once it’s finished, we’d never have to worry about it again.

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