Daylight Saving Time is upon us

Or, as I like to call it, “let’s prove bureaucracy trumps sanity time”.

Come on, what do you think DST is really for? Conserving energy? Think about it: if DST truly has a positive effect on energy consumption, why don’t we have it all year round? DST does not reduce overall energy usage; it just shifts some of it from evening to morning. A recent study found that the overall effect is zero at best and negative at worst.

Do you think DST helps farmers get more work done? On the contrary. A farmer’s schedule is set by the sun, not by the clock. Cows need to be milked at the same time every day, regardless of what the clock says. Dew doesn’t evaporate an hour earlier during DST just to accomodate us. As a result, farmers are out of sync with the rest of society six months out of twelve. Let’s hope they all have Tivo.

Apparently, one effect DST does have is increase spending at resorts and fast-food restaurants. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson vetoed the repeal of DST twice in an attempt to get an extra hour for golfing in the evenings. More recently, both senators from Idaho voted in favor of extended DST in hopes that increased sales of French fries would result in increased demand for Idaho potatoes. No, I’m not kidding about the potatoes: see page 66 of this transcript. It is interesting to note, in the same transcript, the disparity in energy savings claimed by the press (11%), politicians (1%-2%) and the California Energy Commission (0.2%). It is also interesting to note how much weight this hearing placed on the California energy crisis, which we now know was manufactured by Enron and Reliant.

The golf-and-fast-food-effect is a direct consequence of the reason most often quoted by the public for DST: extending daylight in the evenings. This effect, however, is limited to a few weeks around the vernal and autumnal equinox; the rest of the summer, the sun sets after most people’s bedtime anyway. It is also limited to a narrow band of latitude; in regions closer to the arctic, such as Northern Europe, Alaska and Canada, the sun rises earlier and sets later, and there is little to gain by shifting daylight. In regions closer to the tropics, such as Southern Europe and the Gulf Coast of the United States, the sun rises later and sets earlier, and the advantage of extra daylight in the evening is offset by the disadvantage of shifting sunrise well into the morning, sending children to school and driving to work in the dark.

Think of all the confusion caused by the switch to and from DST every year: people forget to set their watches, or shift the wrong way. Consequently, appointments are missed, especially those (such as long distance teleconferences) which straddle time zones. Computers get confused; tasks scheduled for the early morning hours are run twice or not at all (this is usually not a problem in Unix and derivatives, but Microsoft has a history of repeatedly getting it wrong). Train and bus schedules are messed up. Air schedules are messed up, though to a lesser degree since few passenger flights operate during the early morning hours.

Finally, to people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, the return from DST to standard time in the fall is a rude shock, abruptly shortening the day by one full hour. Keeping standard time all year round would give them a chance to adjust.

Give common sense a chance: abolish Daylight Saving Time…

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