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Archive for Saturday, October 26, 2002

Reason for daylight-saving time eludes understanding, some say

October 26, 2002

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— Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the depressing dark times are on us again. Every April they give us an extra hour of evening daylight, and every October they yank it back.

And you know what that means. Today is the last day of daylight-saving time (set your clocks back an hour tonight before you turn in). Sure, you may not care on Sunday when you're spending that extra hour in bed, but Monday will be the most depressing day of the year. It'll get dark by 3, and we'll be in bed by 6 or at least that's how it will feel.

All of which raises a question: Do we have to go back to standard time?

It's not like the daylight-saving shuffle is some sort of natural law. Arizona, Hawaii and parts of Indiana stay on standard time year-round. If they wanted, they could stay on daylight-saving time.

Sure sounds a lot easier. No more running around two times a year changing our wall clocks, car clocks, alarm clocks, VCR clocks, DVD clocks, breadmaker clocks, wristwatches, microwaves, coffee makers and thermostats. No losing an hour of sleep in the spring, no depressing curtain of blackness in the fall.

A good solution?

In other words, this daylight-saving thing is causing a lot of problems.

Which is ironic, said Barbara Twarog, professor of physics and astronomy at Kansas University, because it was intended to solve them.

"The idea has always been to put daylight where it would do the most economic and social good," she said. "I think one of the rationales for daylight-saving time was to have a little more daylight in the evening so people could use that to shop."

Another was to save energy by reducing the need for evening lighting. It's a war thing. The British first enacted what they call "Summer Time" during World War I. The United States adopted a similar plan in 1918, but repealed it a year later, only to reinstate it during World War II. The whole country went on daylight-saving time in 1967. In the 1970s Congress extended daylight-saving time to conserve energy during a fuel shortage.

Not set in stone

We can change it again if we want. In fact, lawmakers have introduced bills to do just that.

In Kansas, for instance, Rep. Dale Swenson, a Republican from Wichita, introduced a bill to abolish daylight-saving time four years ago. His bill never got a hearing.

"I just wanted to ask the question 'Why do we have it, and do we still want it?' " he said. "You know, maybe we do want it. Maybe we ought to stay on all year round. What infuriates people is making the switch two times a year. It disrupts a lot of things. I've had teachers tell me the way kids act in classrooms is noticeably different when they make the switch."

For those who would rather fight than switch there's a Web site, www.standardtime.com, devoted to ending daylight-saving time. The site, which also proposes changing continental time zones from four to two, allows visitors to add their names to an abolishment petition. So far more than 4,000 have.

So because it's not wartime, and there's no crippling fuel shortage, why are we still switching back and forth between different times?

Even some very educated people have no idea.

"I don't really know why we do it," said George Gale, professor of philosophy and physical science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "And I've talked to astronomers and they don't know why we do it. It's politicians. They made us do it."

It's not all bad, Twarog said.

"I have a kid who goes out for the bus in the morning, and I kind of like it if he's not waiting in the dark," she said.

Daylight-saving opponents are unmoved.

Does she like him riding his bike in the dark evenings any better, they ask.

That's the thing, Gale said. It's a zero-sum game. What you gain on one end you lose on the other. There's just no way to make everybody happy.

Even Gale has mixed emotions about the switch between daylight-saving and standard time. But all things considered, he said, he's still in favor of the current system.

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