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Spring forward one last time

Posted: November 12, 2010 3:33 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Turning our clocks back away from daylight-saving time really threw my family for a loop. Despite the extra hour of sleep we got that particular night, it’s disrupted our sleep pattern. We, frankly, are tired of it and wish the practice would come to an end.

And perhaps it should.

Daylight-saving time (DST), which in most of America this year stretched from March 13 to Nov. 7, is not a bad thing. As About.com geography guide Matt Rosenberg explains: “The change to daylight-saving time ostensibly allows us to use less energy in lighting our homes by taking advantage of the longer and later daylight hours.”

For a long time, I thought it was to help farmers. I realized, however, that doesn’t make much sense since I figure farmers are going to do what they have to do whether it’s light out or not. In fact, farmers around the world have traditionally opposed DST.

According to Rosenberg, DST was instituted in the U.S. during World War I in order save energy for war production. The practice of springing forward and falling back was stopped after the war, but required again during World War II. After that, explains Rosenberg, the federal government has allowed states and communities to choose whether or not to observe DST.

In fact, Arizona (except for some Indian reservations), Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa do not observe DST. At one point, the Eastern Time Zone portion of Indiana didn’t. And that’s just the U.S. Looking at a map provided on Wikipedia.com, I was amazed at the number of countries that have either never observed DST or have ended the practice. The U.S. is in a minority, as it turns out, with mostly Northern Hemisphere areas observing DST. In fact, the only Southern Hemisphere countries still using DST are Brazil, Chile, Namibia, New Zealand and the Australian territories of South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria (along with Tasmania).

The main reason to continue DST during the longer daylight hours of the late spring, summer and early fall is to take advantage of energy savings in the afternoons and evenings. An argument could be made that we have to switch back to standard time in November in order to save energy in the mornings during winter months.

But I’m not so sure that arguments can be made anymore. America and a good chunk of the world are “on” 24/7, regardless of whether it’s sunny or dark outside. So, is our energy consumption really different during DST that during standard time?

Most of the information I could find on the subject appears to say “not really.” Any effects appear to be negligible.

Another economic argument is that certain businesses -- entertainment, sports and retail to varying degrees -- benefit from the extra daylight hours. But that seems to be offset by the costs of dealing with the time change in the business world. According to sources cited by Wikipedia, remote meetings can be affected, computer applications may or may not automatically adjust to the time change and is there any wonder why TV shows don’t seem to do well during the summer?

Public safety has been cited as a reason to maintain the split, especially where traffic and children are concerned. The idea is that the more sunlight you have during the summer, the safer it is to drive. Conversely, since most kids are in school during the fall/winter/spring stretch, it’s safer for them to wait at school bus stops during the earlier daylight hours of standard time.

Again, the arguments don’t seem to stand up too well. Most of the traffic and crime studies I looked at were a mixed bag, indicating some but not vast safety improvements.

Finally, several authors have pointed out -- as I did at the beginning of this column -- that dealing with the DST shifts can really disrupt sleep patterns.

I think it’s time to end the constant back and forth. While the passage of time is a constant, the marking of time is actually arbitrary. An hour is 60 minutes only because our science was able to more accurately measure how long it takes for our planet to rotate on its axis. Our year is based on how long it takes for the Earth to go around the Sun. Look at a map of time zones and they’re a confusing mess, not following geographic or even political boundaries.

I suppose I’d be better off back on Saipan where we didn’t observe DST because we were much closer to the equator. Down there, day and night are pretty much equal.

Humans are incredibly adaptable. Some might say part of that adaptability is taking a phenomenon like unequal day and night time hours in the extreme Northern and Southern hemispheres and coming up with a system to shift our time keeping to take advantage of one or the other.

I say we are so adaptable we don’t need to shift what our clocks say. We can choose to get up or go to bed earlier; we can choose to ignore the fact that the days get longer in the summer and just go on living our lives.

My proposal is to spring forward one last time next March and then be done with it. We would, technically, observe DST year-round. So it’s darker in the morning during the winter. It gets darker during the winter anyway. Big deal.

Oh, I do have one other idea: follow our Spanish and Latin cousins with afternoon siestas. Even if it means adjusting work schedules, I think we’d all be surprised by the benefits.

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