Well, we recently went through the annual process of moving our clocks ahead an hour for daylight savings, and once again, the whole process has come under attack. This year it was featured prominently on the HBO comedy series Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in a segment called “Why is this still a thing?”
There was nothing terribly new in the segment, but it is worth having the daylight savings debate.
The idea of moving clocks forward one hour in the summer was not invented by Benjamin Franklin, as many believe. It came into consideration in the industrial age when timetables became hardened and clocks were technologically sophisticated enough to allow for synchronization. It was officially implemented for the first time in World War I to save on energy costs. Over the years it has been repealed and then re-enacted many times in many places.
The critical issue is that daylight savings, at least in its modern form, doesn’t appear to actually save energy any more, according to studies done on states that have changed their policies (Does Daylight Savings Time Save Energy? Working Paper 14429, National Bureau of Economic Research). And we still all have to suffer from the jetlag effect of shifting an hour ahead. But this ignores the pleasant offsetting effects of turning the clock back in the Fall… and that glorious extra hour of sleep. Ergo, cost benefit analysis suggests we shouldn’t bother changing our clocks at all. Hence why is this still a thing?
The answer is that the value of an extra hour of light tacked on to the end of the day is worth more than saving a bit of power. Sunlight gives us the flexibility to do many things we can’t do at night such as sports, yard work, or enjoying a beautiful view. Sure, some of this might be accomplished using artificial light, but it’s not as good. Do you like driving in the day or at night better? Most people prefer day.
As we move into summer, days also grow naturally longer so we get more daylight—this is a good thing inasmuch as we now have more hours to enjoy it. But since our clocks are fixed, half that new light ends up being tacked on to the early morning, when most of us our sleeping—what a waste of good light. Adding this on to the end of the day is only logical.
And as far as the jetlag effect, the solution is simple: Why turn the clocks back at all? Years ago, dark mornings were to be avoided. Many children walked to school, cars had less able headlights, and so on. Today, these issues aren’t nearly as important. Ask yourself a basic question—if you had an extra hour of daylight to use, where would you put it? In the morning or evening? My guess is that most would say the latter. So let’s just not go back this fall.
In fact, I like the idea so much, I have another. How about we move the clock forward another hour?