There’s the old story about the little girl who asked her mother why she cut a small piece off the ham before she put it in the pan to cook. The woman said that’s how the little girl’s grandmother always had done it.
The grandmother, in turn, explained that’s how her mother had done it. And the great-grandmother was to the point: She needed to do that because she had a small pan.
Is Daylight Savings Time – which begins Sunday morning at 2 a.m. when clocks are moved forward one hour – the same kind of hanger-on, done because it’s always been done?
There are strong arguments that it is.
Tom Zeller Jr., a Forbes contributor, last year challenged the claim that the twice-a-year change saves energy.
“Whether or not this practice actually saves any energy – or has any ancillary social impacts, negative or positive – has been hotly debated and regularly research over the years, often with conflicting results,” he said. “Most recently, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, seemed to corroborate what a number of other studies have already found: Daylight Saving Time, or DST, might do precious little to save energy, and may even increase energy consumption on the whole.”
And he pointed out other studies have suggested links between Daylight Savings Time and “a variety of disturbing social outcomes, including increases in heart attacks and upticks in criminal behavior.”
Other studies have found an increase in traffic accidents in the days immediately after a time change.
The Time and Date website provides an overview of the history of the practice, pointing out it apparently first was used locally in Thunder Bay, Canada, in 1908, some time after Benjamin Franklin reportedly had joked about waking up earlier to save candles.
“In 1895, New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, proposing a two-hour shift forward in October and a two-hour shift back in March. There was interest in the idea, but it was never followed through. In 1905, independently from Hudson, British builder William Willett suggested setting the clocks ahead 20 minutes on each of the four Sundays in April, and switching them back by the same amount on each of the four Sundays in September, a total of eight time switches per year.”
The practice appeared in several other locations in 1914. In 1916, Germany adopted it, rationalizing that it would reduce the use of energy for lighting, saving fuel for the war effort.
Other countries followed, but then dropped it after the conflict. The site says it wasn’t until the next World War that DST returned in most of Europe.
Earlier civilizations had put the same idea in practice simply by starting their day when the sun rose.
In the United States, the report explains, “Fast Time” first was introduced in 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson to support energy conservation during World War I.
It was repealed soon after, however, and used only locally until Franklin D. Roosevelt brought it back during World War II.
Once again, it fell mostly into disuse after the war. But through the Uniform Time Act of 1966, Congress established DST to begin in April and end in October, with some exemptions.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 established the current practice of beginning on the second Sunday in March and ending on the first Sunday in November, with the stated intent of saving energy.
The History.com website, however, noted: “Dating back to Willett, daylight saving advocates have touted energy conservation as an economic benefit. A U.S. Department of Transportation study in the 1970s concluded that total electricity savings associated with daylight saving time amounted to about 1 percent in the spring and fall months. As air conditioning has become more widespread, however, more recent studies have found that cost savings on lighting are more than offset by greater cooling expenses. University of California Santa Barbara economists calculated that Indiana’s move to statewide daylight saving time in 2006 led to a 1-percent rise in residential electricity use through additional demand for air conditioning on summer evenings and heating in early spring and late fall mornings. Some also argue that increased recreational activity during daylight saving results in greater gasoline consumption.”
Critics have launched Facebook campaigns to end DST, and Forbes’ report noted a Department of Energy study released in 2008 found DST resulted “in about 1.3 terawatt-hours of electricity savings – or about one-third of one percent of total electricity consumption over the course of a year.”
“An Australian study from 2008, using observed data, found no energy savings, and perhaps a slight increase in energy use. A more recent analysis of energy use in Indiana, which adopted DST statewide in 2006, showed a full one percent increase in energy usage.”
A subsequent report called the American Time Use Survey, Forbes noted, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, looked at the time people spend working, in child care, volunteering, socializing and more, and the results showed “that the Daylight Saving Time shift prompted people to get up earlier in the morning, sleep about 20 minutes less each night, and to spend additional ‘awake time’ doing chores at home in the early hours – particularly in the spring.”
“Given that nearly 40 percent of electricity consumption is attributed to residential use, the researchers postulate that this could account for the negligible, or even counterproductive, impacts of DST that many other studies have found,” the report said.
Yale economics professor Matthew Kotchen said his investigations into the changes in Indiana found “monthly increases [in electricity consumption] as high as 4 percent in the late summer and early fall. The consequence for Indiana has been higher electricity bills and more pollution from power plants.”
A report from Phys.org agreed.
“It turns out that more daylight gives us more time to shop, drive, grill and perfect our golf game. What it doesn’t do is cut our energy use, as is the intent.”
That is according to Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”
He documented that gas consumption goes up during Daylight Saving Time.
“If it’s light when we leave work and we decide to go to the mall or a restaurant or head for a summer night at the beach, we don’t walk there; we get in our cars,” he explained
In a Christian Science Monitor report a year ago, Downing identified the biggest backer of DST now as the Chamber of Commerce.
“The chamber understood that if you give workers more sunlight at the end of the day they’ll stop and shop on their way home,” he said.
“Today we have eight months of daylight saving and only four months of standard time. Can you tell me which time is standard?”