If you’re reading this column soon after its initial publication, congratulations! You may still have a day or two to enjoy comparative normalcy before the imposition of the “fall back” component of Daylight Saving Time.
In the spring, most of us move our clocks ahead without thinking about it too much. Even though we lose an hour’s sleep, there’s a strong incentive to comply, mostly the fact that if you don’t, you’ll be an hour late for everything on Monday. In November, our silence is bought, cheaply, with the return of that hour.
The history of Daylight Saving Time, or DST, is marked with hiccups. A Canadian city experimented with it in 1908, but not until 1916 was an extra hour of daylight extended across an entire country—Germany, in a wartime cost-saving measure intended to minimize artificial light expenditures.
Studies are still conducted regularly about the effects of DST on energy consumption, productivity, traffic accidents, heart attacks, and more. Lacking consensus, the only thing they all agree on is that people don’t like to have to adjust to an hour’s difference on the clock.
In the U.S., an increasing number of states are proposing to eliminate that requirement by keeping DST all year—in other words, we would spring ahead and stay there. Compare a post-”fall back” day in New Jersey, November 17th; sunrise is at 6:45 a.m., sunset at 4:39 p.m. If we kept the extra hour all year, the sun wouldn’t come up until 7:45 a.m., but we’d have light until 5:39 p.m.
Delaware, a legal rabble-rouser from early in this country’s history, seems eager to earn its nickname of “The First State” once again, this time by being first in the northeast to approve year-round Daylight Saving Time. But just as Delaware didn’t declare independence without its bigger colonial buddies behind it, the state’s current plan requires Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland to sign on for year-round DST before actually becoming effective. The waffling is said to be a precaution for commuters going to or from Delaware, who might be inconvenienced by multiple time zones, but we New Jerseyans know the truth—everyone’s braver with backup.
Across the nation, Delaware has been beaten to the punch. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, Washington, and other states have introduced bills, acts, resolutions, referendums, and other formidable-sounding legislative documents aimed at establishing permanent Daylight Saving Time.
Arizona and Hawaii are rebels of a kind, keeping standard time all year. (An example from the last day before the switch back from DST, November 2nd: Dallas, Texas—at nearly identical latitude with Phoenix, Arizona—sees the sun rise at 7:45 a.m. and set at 6:35 p.m. In Phoenix, the sun rises and sets at 6:47 a.m. and 5:35 p.m., respectively.) Federal law allows states to choose to keep standard time all year or switch to DST for half the year (our setup in New Jersey). But there’s currently no option under federal law to make DST year-round, so all the state activity adds up to little more than posturing.
In theory, pressure from enough states should force the feds to permit year-round DST. But since Congress has its hands full at the moment with a certain president who can’t seem to stay out of trouble, Delaware’s backup plan is to simply switch from observing Eastern Standard Time to Atlantic Standard Time, effectively achieving the desired one hour difference with no federal permission required.
Just as there are movements to make Daylight Saving Time year-round, there are also efforts to abolish it altogether. Morning people generally oppose DST, while night owls tend to show support. But this battle makes for strange bedfellows—DST is unpopular with farmers, who traditionally begin and end their days according to the sun, but it’s also disliked by television network executives, who’d prefer to see it dark during primetime viewing hours, and by criminals, who can’t perform their evening skulking as easily under a bright summer sky.
On the other side of things, the candy, golf, and barbecue industries have all lobbied extensively to extend DST for more of the year, successfully pushing the “fall back” to November instead of the last Sunday in October. These varied interests are worthy of a particularly sweet conspiracy theory—one that allows for more golf, more barbecues, and daylight trick-or-treating on Halloween.
One of the objections to “saving daylight” year-round is that some children could be walking to school in the dark. Thinking back to my own childhood and the classic parental command to “be home by dark,” I suspect that even today, most kids would prefer to have their daylight after school. As for adults, I can imagine a survey that would reveal one’s true feelings about DST with questions like, “Do birds chirping in the morning annoy you, or delight you?” But in lieu of that, a less entertaining nationwide survey is viewable at YouGov.com, showing that a slight majority (54%) of those polled favor ending DST entirely.
I’m in the minority; year-round DST sounds pretty good to me. DST gets a bad rap, often blamed for S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), a winter depression that usually hits right around the time the clocks get moved back. But some doctors and scientists believe the transition from DST to standard time is what brings on symptoms, so year-round DST might be a cheap cure for S.A.D. sufferers.
Global warming provides even more reasons for late afternoon daylight in November and December. If average temperatures in New Jersey continue to increase, darkness might be the only obstacle to an after-work winter run or bike ride. But despite the talk of outdoor recreation and health issues, for a lot of people this issue is about one thing—not having to go around the house adjusting clocks. A hotly contested civil war, pitting brother against brother in battles that prove impossible to accurately coordinate? No. It’s a laziness revolution, really.
Still, a grassroots campaign could work. What if I and other like-minded individuals decided to breeze past November 3rd without ever falling back? What if we all met, bleary-eyed, at say, Monday, November 4th at 9 a.m. at our elected officials’ offices and demanded our daylight? What if no one was there, because what’s 9 a.m. to us is 8 a.m. to them?
As a call to “Lock the Clock,” the plan outlined above still works. But maybe, when you’re getting ready to leave home on Monday, just relax and slow down a bit. Take your time! Maybe even write that phrase on an inspirational rally poster. I’ll see you there at 9… or maybe closer to 10.