By Roger Repohl
THE BRONX, N.Y. - Sorry, but I’m a bit disoriented at this moment.
It’s 6:45 a.m. on Monday, March 12, and it is pitch dark outside. My body feels heavy; I’m nodding off at my desk. Last Friday at this time the sun was up and running, and so was I.
It’s Daylight Saving Time, and it will take at least a week for my internal clock to adjust. It’s jet lag without going anywhere, a hangover without drinking anything. Last night I was so exhausted I went to bed an hour early (springing ahead, that’s two hours early) and then lay there wide awake - for two hours.
This isn’t sleep-deprivation from having lost that hour in the middle of the night; I feel the same way when the time changes in the fall and we gain an hour. It’s the rebellion of the body’s clock.
Unlike some chronological purists, I am not opposed to DST; I am only opposed to the change. The way we keep time no longer has much to do with the position of the sun at 12 o’clock noon anyway; it has to do with our own convenience, with our national patterns of life, with maximizing sunlight for our own purposes. What is 12 o’clock noon to an orbiting astronaut?
Since we’ve now added yet another month to DST, leaving only four months of so-called “Standard Time,” why not go all the way and made Daylight Time the year-round standard?
We’ve been tinkering with time-changes for almost a century now. During World War I - following the lead of their foes Germany and Austria - Great Britain, most of Europe, and the United States all enacted laws advancing their clocks by one hour for seven months of the year, for the same alleged reason we do it today: to conserve electricity. After the war, President Woodrow Wilson proposed making the change permanent, but Congress repealed the statute over his veto because most of the country despised it. In 1942, Franklin Roosevelt put the nation on year-round DST - then called “War Time” - which people either tolerated or enjoyed until September of 1945, when the decision to observe it was returned to state and local jurisdictions. In 1963, the Uniform Time Act created a national DST from May through October, though some states like Arizona and Indiana requested and got exemptions. In 1973, in response to the Arab oil embargo, the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act extended DST for 15 months straight, until complaints from agribusiness and fears that children were at risk of being assaulted or struck by cars on their way to school in the dark forced its recission. In 1986, the spring change was moved to the first Sunday of April, and two years ago, Congress mandated the present arrangement, again in the name of energy conservation.
Whew. And never to be outdone, the California Energy Commission in 2000 proposed a Double Daylight Saving Time, under which the state would in effect go on Mountain Time, one hour ahead of Pacific Standard Time in the winter months and two hours ahead in the summer, claiming electricity savings of between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent. The state senate petitioned the U.S. Congress to approve the scheme, but it was ignored.
Besides energy conservation, other arguments for extending DST include reducing traffic fatalities and cutting down crime. While substantiating data are skimpy in all cases, there is an inherent logic to these assertions. The unpopularity of DST after World War I came from a society that was still mostly rural and small-town; in the main, people retained a traditional sun-based way of life, getting up with the light and going to bed shortly after dark. It is not like that today; we rise and retire at the same times all year long. For most of us, except for farmers and morning joggers or golfers, an extra hour of afternoon sun, even in the dead of winter, more than compensates for having to eat breakfast and get out the door in the dark. Not only do children have more time to play outdoors, but it makes sense that traffic accidents are more likely to occur in evening darkness, when almost everybody is active, than in morning darkness, when the activity is more spread out. And criminals, of course, are not known to be morning persons.
What would Pacific Daylight Time be like on December 21, the shortest day of the year? According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, in Los Angeles the sun would rise at 7:55, not 6:55, and set at 5:48, not 4:48. As a northern contrast, in Seattle sunrise would occur at 8:55 and sunset at 5:20. Does it make any difference to you?
Farmers’ objections to DST seem to be based more on the time change than on winter darkness. As one Canadian farmer quoted on the website webexhibits.org complained, “The chickens do not adapt to the changed clock until several weeks have gone by, so the first week of April and the last week of October are very frustrating for us.” You’d think a farmer would adjust his schedule to the chickens’ instead of the other way around, but it’s the adjustment that’s the issue here.
And beyond the farm, the adjustment is the issue too. The cost to businesses and to government for everything from reprogramming computers to resetting traffic lights has been estimated to run in the billions of dollars.
Not to mention the inconvenience to all of us in adjusting the multitude of our own conveniences - the wristwatches, the wall clocks, the car clocks, the clock radios, the answering machines, the microwaves, the stove. There have been years when I’ve discovered some appliance still displaying Standard Time in June, like an Easter egg you detect under your couch months after the family hunt.
And then there’s that clock in our bodies, which, like the farmer’s chickens, doesn’t change with the push of a button.
So I say: Daylight Saving Time, all the time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a nap.