It is time to rethink time

Nov 022009
Authors: Seth Anthony

This past weekend, some hundreds of millions of Americans shared a common experience. No, not Halloween — daylight-saving time came to an end, and we all got to sleep for an extra hour. In exchange for that momentary benefit, the sun now sets shortly after lunch.

At least that’s not as bad as the “spring forward,” when we lose an hour and struggle around in something resembling a drunken stupor until we adjust to dragging ourselves out of bed while it’s still dark outside./

At these times of the year, I dust off my theory that daylight-saving time is actually a conspiracy by the military-industrial complex to steal time from us in the spring, store it in a warehouse in Area 51 and use it for nefarious purposes during the summer before giving it back to us in the fall. Since no one else thinks this is plausible, the next most convenient scapegoat is the Founding Fathers./

Although it’s commonly believed that the great American sage and inventor Benjamin Franklin first came up with the idea, his suggestion of adjusting our schedules to make maximum use of daylight hours was actually part of a satirical plan which also included rationing candles and firing cannons at sunrise to wake people up./

Daylight-saving time’s modern developer was actually/New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson, who was more interested in having after-work daylight to catch insects — not the most compelling case for resetting everyone’s schedules twice each year. It wasn’t until World War I, and an acute need to conserve electricity-producing coal, that setting clocks forward an hour during the summer month’s caught on — and it wasn’t until the 1960s before daylight-saving time was standardized in the United States.

DST may have worked early in the century, when the biggest draw on the power grid was incandescent lamps, but these days, when heating, cooling and transportation are much bigger burdens on our electrical system, it’s worth asking: Is the burden of shifting our schedules and our clocks twice a year worth the cost?

Fortunately, recent changes in daylight-saving time rules in various parts of the world give us actual data. When daylight-saving time was introduced in Australia earlier this decade, electricity consumption and peak loads in the morning were actually seen to increase. Studies in Indiana showed similar results — increases in residential energy use under DST from 1 to 4 percent. At best, these studies show that DST basically breaks even; at worst, it actually results in more energy use.

Biologically, it’s not good to have to shift your biological clock by an hour — we all have first-hand experience with this. Studies have found that suicide rates, heart attack rates and traffic accident rates increase when we shift our clocks, particularly in the springtime. Add to that the very real burden of having to shift hundreds of millions of clocks around the country twice each year, and, in an international economy, making calculation of time differences with other countries more complicated./

There is one clear benefit from daylight-saving time — increased evening light. Outdoor recreation and the industries that benefit from it are clear winners — they lobbied Congress successfully to extend DST in 1987 and in 2007. This most recent change set DST’s span from March to November. Now there’s barely four months on “Standard Time,” and daylight-saving time has become the de facto standard.

If there’s anywhere we can make a case for doing away with these absurd time shifts, it’s here in Colorado — a state where year-long outdoor recreation is a way of life and we could make good use of extended daylight even in the winter months by shifting to daylight time year-round. When energy savings are dubious and there are clear costs to resetting our clocks twice each year, it’s time to start thinking differently about time.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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