Our National Insanity
Like lemmings leaping off of a cliff, Americans this past Saturday night dutifully joined with the lunacy of the political class in playing the twice-a-year game, “Pretend You Can Change Time.”
All of the clocks in our houses, the ones on our wrists, and the ones in our cars had to be moved forward an hour. (Phones and computers are smart enough to do it on their own.) In the fall we repeat the insanity and move all of the clocks back to the time they were. I have over 60 antique clocks so the DST game is a particular annoyance.
But the one clock that really matters couldn’t be changed – the one in your body. Most people, therefore, looked at their newly-reset clocks Saturday evening and said, “My gosh! 11 o'clock already? It’s can’t be 11 o'clock; I’m not even sleepy.” Well, it wasn’t 11 o'clock in body time so many of us stayed up until midnight. But if we had someplace to go Sunday morning – like church – we lost an hour of sleep according to our bodies and hit the road bleary-eyed behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound automobile.
Since it can take up to a week for people to acclimate their body to a new time schedule, millions of commuters were virtual guided missiles in their morning commutes this week, combining the still lingering loss of an hour of sleep with the hazard of a new hour of darkness.
Benjamin Franklin originally conceived of the idea of resetting clocks in the summer when the sun rises earlier and sets later. Legend has it he was awakened by sunlight streaming through a shutter one morning during his assignment as US ambassador to France. That started his boundless imagination to calculating that Parisians burned up about 65 million pounds of candles doing things in the dark that could be done during daylight hours if they would just roll out of the sack earlier. (Apparently he was unaware of the life of a farmer.) Franklin proposed waking the city folk at daybreak with cannons and church bells and, to give them an incentive to go to bed after sunset, imposing a tax on candles. The idea went nowhere in his lifetime but it identified an ingenious new way government could interfere in the lives of citizens.
In Franklin’s time people never traveled far from their birthplace. The activities of life and work didn’t make it necessary. So time was determined locally using the sun’s zenith to establish solar noon to which all local clocks were set. Cross a river and you could be in a different time zone. After the industrial revolutions in England, Europe, and the American north, commerce and transportation scheduling was chaotic absent a more standardized time system. So in 1884 the International Meridian Conference agreed on a time standard that would make zero time the time on the longitude that passed through Greenwich England – thus Greenwich Mean Time or Zulu time, the military’s phonetic “Z”, was established. GMT time became the time west of Greenwich until a westbound traveler reached 15 degrees of longitude. At the 15 degree boundary, a new time zone started and continued for another 15 degrees.
The earth is roughly spherical, meaning that a circle is transcribed by traveling due west from Greenwich until the traveler returns to Greenwich from the east. Since a circle has 360 degrees, establishing time zones every 15 degrees of longitude means there are 24 time zones each having a time standard which is one hour earlier than the time in the zone immediately to its east.
Daylight Saving Time was instituted by government edict in the administration of Woodrow Wilson, who during World War I believed coal would be saved by moving clock time back an hour. (Yeah, I know the “spring forward” thing, but clock time goes backward when the hour hand goes forward.) This was part of a general law, the Standard Time Act of 1918, which imposed a congressionally mandated time under the ever-elastic Commerce Clause provision of the US Constitution. Wilson wanted DST clock time to be permanent (he was an avid golfer) but farmers raised a ruckus because their routines were determined by solar time. So clocks resumed their Standard Time setting.
But along came World War II and Franklin Roosevelt reinstituted clock jiggering, which he dubbed “War Time,” so DST prevailed throughout the year. After the war states were given the choice to stick with Roosevelt time or return to Standard Time. Some states opted in, others opted out and chaos reigned. Once again Congress intervened establishing the Uniform Time Act of 1966 with provisions that states which observed DST had to start it on the first Sunday in April and end it on the last Sunday in October. That law was replaced in 2007 with the Energy Policy Act that started DST on the second Sunday in March and ended it on the first Sunday in November.
Energy savings, the alleged purpose for DST, has never been proven. One government study showed a 1% reduction in energy consumption – a pittance – but other studies show that the shift to DST costs American business $150 million. I know, that’s also a pittance in the age of Obama but add to it the increased incidence of auto accidents immediately following the switch to DST and increased adverse health incidents associated with disrupted body clocks and it appears obvious that the cost of DST compliance exceeds the benefits.
Nevertheless last Sunday morning, March 9, at 2 a.m. a miracle occurred! By government edict an hour disappeared! The federal government ordered time to advance an hour and POOF! the hour between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. vanished. Just like that. BAM! and it was gone. What if I’d had someone to meet at 2:30 a.m.? Would we have had to meet in an alternate universe? “Hey Matrix Man, the government just blew up the hour when we were going to meet. Can we do it one universe over?”
Where I live the sun rose – if any politicians are reading this, that happens in the east – at 6:57 a.m. last Saturday March 8. The sun set at 6:40 p.m. That gave me 11 hours, 42 minutes, and 38 seconds of daylight. That’s cool. I got everything done I needed to do. Solar noon occurred at 12:48 p.m. I hardly noticed that it was 48 minutes late. ‘Course I could have walked, clock in hand, about 700 miles east to the Boston longitude and my clock’s noon and solar noon would have been about the same. But that stuff doesn’t bother me. Besides, I’d have been 500 miles off the coast of Savannah in the ocean.
Thanks to DST solar noon now comes at 1:48 p.m. That puts clock noon in the solar mid-morning. The alleged purpose of the “spring forward” nonsense – to save daylight – does nothing of the kind. On the Monday morning following the beginning of DST, the sun rose at 7:55 a.m. where I live and set at 7:41 p.m. giving 11 hours, 46 minutes, and 49 seconds of daylight. The solar morning and afternoon daylight were equally divided – 5 hours and 53 minutes in each. However, if I reckon daylight by clock time, the day began with the 7:55 a.m. sunrise and continued for 4 hours and 5 minutes until clock noon. The afternoon ran from clock noon until sunset at 7:41 p.m. – that is, 7 hours and 41 minutes. So by clock time Monday saw a tad more than 4 hours of daylight in the morning and afternoon saw almost 8 hours. The duration of daylight was the same in hours as it was by solar reckoning. But DST silliness removes an hour from “morning” and adds it to “afternoon.”
DST doesn’t affect evening commuters unless they get home quite late. Commuters who normally get home at 6:30 p.m. clock time had daylight both before and after the annual onset of DST. However morning commuters who normally leave home at 7 a.m. had daylight commutes before the onset of DST but after DST their commute now starts in the dark and continues so for almost an hour. Where’s the energy saving?
Office buildings, which burn electricity mostly when they are occupied, turn on the lights an hour earlier and turn them off an hour earlier. Where’s the energy saving?
But there is considerably more energy expenditure because of DST. It’s the energy expended by parents trying to get their children to bed and asleep now that government has pumped all this light into their afternoon. “But mom, it’s still light outside! Why do we have to go to bed earlier?” They don’t get it.
Neither do I.
On November 2 Americans will waste more time setting maybe a billion clocks and watches back an hour. For what? Why don’t we just pick a time a stick to it?
Notwithstanding the lunacy rampant in Washington, we have as much daylight as we’re going to have. It can’t be saved and it can’t be created. The creation of daylight and time happened before there was either. Or politicians.
Yes, Virginia; there was a time when there were no politicians.