Stop the temporal oppression

Continuing an annual ritual you can set your clocks to, people will go into work Sunday to find they are an hour late. The most oblivious students will be late for class on Monday, left shaking their heads wondering how society could have ever wronged them so badly. This, dear readers, is the steep price we pay for daylight saving time. How such a silly custom came into being is a good question. The bigger question, however, is why we are still practicing it.

As with many bad ideas, the source of daylight saving can be traced back to Puritanism. Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of America, was born to Puritan parents in 1706. Although he abandoned many of his parents’ religious beliefs, he held fast to the notion that efficiency was a principal virtue in society and the best way to achieve efficiency was to wake up with the sun and go to bed when it sets. As United States Minister to France, Franklin sent an anonymous letter to the Journal of Paris arguing that Parisians could save a ton of candle wax each year if they stopped staying up so late.

George Vernon Hudson, a New Zealand entomologist, proposed daylight saving in 1895 as a means to increase evening sunlight so that he could collect more bugs. Similarly, the Englishman William Willett petitioned members of parliament for the time adjustment in 1905 because he was tired of having to cut short his evening golf games. Golfers, entomologists and journalists are notorious for sleeping in (to say nothing of students), so why not accept the change of time?

In 1916 Germany began the practice in order to preserve coal during the First World War. Over the next few years most other countries

in Europe also adopted the custom. The concept is simple. If clocks are turned back in the fall, then it will be lighter in the evenings, which will save resources used to make light and heat homes. Far be it from us to criticise the efficiency of Puritans and Germans– it’s no surprise that the plan worked.

Or did it? The benefits of daylight saving are disputable and there are also many downsides. The most common case for adjusting time– that it decreases energy use– is unproven. It seems greatly dependent on the location because heating and cooling are dictated by climate. Indiana adopted daylight saving in 2006 after promises that it would save millions of dollars. In fact, energy costs increased by as much as four per cent, costing $9 million annually. Other places, however, have found no change.

It’s well and good to consider outdoor pursuits, but there are adverse health effects. The biggest drawback is the adjustment of time interferes with the circadian rhythm, which can have negative effects on sleep patterns for weeks. For those with sleep conditions, the effects can be much more severe. Other health problems are correlated to daylight saving time: a Swedish study in 2008 found that heart attacks went up significantly for the three weekdays after the spring adjustment (but down for the first weekday after the fall adjustment). Positive benefits to daylight saving may include a decrease in depression and more vitamin D synthesis.

Energy, health and leisure would all be good reasons for instituting a twice-annual shift in time but the results are too unclear to be worthwhile. Any benefit seems to be balanced off by a negative effect.

Such talk is idle, however, because it misses the real point. Changing clocks is a pain in the ass. The government has no right to force us to be more efficient and it is past time that we stood up and shouted, as one voice, that we will no longer tolerate this injustice. The great Canadian novelist Robertson Davies was correct when he described “the bony, blue-fingered hand of Puritanism, eager to push people into bed earlier, and get them up earlier, to make them healthy, wealthy and wise in spite of themselves.”

. . the Gauntlet Editoral Board

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.