Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring-Fall Time Changes -- Stop the Madness!

I went to bed last night at the usual time.  When I woke this morning, after my usual amount of rest, it was an hour later than it had been when I woke up yesterday.  This is because Daylight Savings Time (DST) began as I slept.

When you think about it, time is an artificial construct, an invention of man.  The sun reliably rises and sets on its own well-understood schedule.  Why should humans make the organization of time more complicated than it needs to be?

There is a minor inconvenience to this, which is the resetting of all our clocks.  In our neighborhood, where electrical service is more intermittent than we would like, this is not a big deal.  We get regular practice at updating our clocks, and so we accomplish the task quickly.  

Still, it would be nice to do this two fewer times each year.

Personally, I don't care whether we have year-round Standard Time or year-round DST.  There is anecdotal evidence that suggests people generally prefer longer evenings to earlier sunrises.  Since we're now on DST, why don't we just stick with it from now on?

More than half our state legislatures already have considered abandoning the biennial clock-change practice; any change by any government is difficult, of course, but the proposals seem to meet with considerable public enthusiasm.

Last month, the Oklahoma legislature took up the issue.  California's lawmakers are considering putting a referendum on the November ballot to reverse a 1949 referendum that adopted the Standard/Daylight regime in the first place.

Go for it, legislatures, I say.  Do it now!


The daylight savings time idea appears to have occurred first to a New Zealand entomologist in 1895; maybe he reasoned that this would allow him more time to study the evening habits of crickets and beetles.

The idea rattled around for a while and first was adopted in Germany in 1916.

During the world wars, the United States switched to annual DST on the idea that longer hours of sunlight would conserve energy needed for the war effort.  The national plan ended after the wars, and most states adopted Daylight Savings Time independently after World War II.

Health Effects

The first few days after springing forward and falling back are a bit perilous, according to health officials.  The speculation is that interruption of circadian rhythms is the cause.

Ischemic stroke incidence, for instance, rises about eight percent (20 percent for senior citizens) in the first two days after a time change, according to a Finnish paper to be presented next month at an American Academy of Neurology conference in Vancouver, B.C.

A 2012 study concluded that the rate of heart attacks rose by 10 percent in the days after the time switch each spring and fall.

Another study found that car crashes increased as much as six percent in days following time changes; a report on this will appear in the April edition of the American Economic Journal.

Let's try a thought experiment:  Imagine what would happen if consuming Hershey's chocolate bars were found to be associated with mildly elevated rates of strokes, heart attacks and car crashes.

Hershey's chocolate bars would be pulled off the market immediately.

What's the difference here?

Economic Effects

A 2008 report by the National Bureau of Economic Research challenged the central energy-saving premise of DST.  The study was based on the analysis of 7 million electric bills studied over the course of three years in Indiana.

       Our main finding is that -- contrary to the policy's intent -- DST increases residential
       electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent, but
       we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period.
               DST causes the greatest increase in electricity consumption in the fall, when
       estimates range between 2 and 4 percent. These findings are consistent with
       simulation results that point to tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and
       increasing demand for heating and cooling.
               We estimate a cost of increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $9
       million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions that
       range from $1.7 to $5.5 million per year.
                Finally, we argue that the effect is likely to be even stronger in other regions of
       the United States.

Who Likes It?

You know who likes time-change weekends? Fire chiefs.  For years now, they have been advising people to replace fire alarm batteries on the time-change weekends.

This makes some sense, but it would make more sense if people just put wrote notes in their calendars (or if Microsoft, Google, Facebook and newspapers published public-service reminders) and every family in the land didn't have to go to the additional work of changing its clocks as well as its alarm batteries.


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