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Posted on May 6th, 2014

Outside the Box – Daylight Savings Time (DST)

Fall back, spring ahead. Significantly less than half the people polled recently on the value of DST thought it was worth the effort. Originally rooted in saving energy, the theory is that DST allows for longer evenings in the summer months, therefore leading to less energy consumption. However, in a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, it was found that while less lighting was used, the warm weather typically associated with the season led to the use of air conditioning which cancelled out efforts. And even in the event where the AC privilege wasn’t abused, the darker mornings required the use of extra light anyways. In 2007, when the US extended DST by one month, it was found to be a “zero-impact event.”

So what’s the history of DST anyways? Adjusting schedules to the sun was a common practice in ancient times; but as societies continued to evolve, the adjustment fell out of practice until the needs of railway and communication systems dictated otherwise. DST was first thought of separately by two individuals, George Vernon Hudson of New Zealand and William Willett of England. The former used his evening leisure time to collect insects, and the latter used that time to golf. Essentially, DST was developed because of the desire to engage in leisure, and perhaps a little disdain for the lazy folks who wasted their mornings. However, much to the late Willet’s chagrin, his efforts to pass a bill on DST did not take place during his lifetime. The first countries to adopt DST were Germany, Hungary and Austria during World War I as a means to conserve coal rations.

Sometimes referred to as Tomorrow Island, the International Dateline crosses Big Diomede Island. Located in the middle of the Bering Strait, Little Diomede Island (not shown here) is referred to as Yesterday Isle. 50-cm color image captured by WorldView-2 on August 17, 2013, and was photo enhanced by Apollo Mapping. Image comes courtesy of DigitalGlobe.

After the latest round of DST was implemented, much was written about the negative health effects of skipping through time. It is believed that the disruption of our circadian rhythms can have potentially severe health consequences. In a European study, it was found that participants adjusted well to the loss of an hour in the fall; but that the gaining of an hour in the spring was more likely to disrupt an individual’s cognitive and physical functioning. This is especially true with people who tend to keep later schedules. Another alarming statistic, though one without a confirmed and determinate reason, is that the heart attack rate goes up as much as 10% in the days immediately following the time change. Some speculation is that sleep deprivation leads to inflammation, but studies are still underway on the topic.

There are numerous countries that don’t use DST; and Hawaii and Arizona are the only two US states that do not recognize DST, though some Indian Reservations in Arizona do. Arizona chooses not to because of the intense heat, and it is assumed, as alluded to above, that more daylight would equal more use of AC. Hawaii does not use DST because of its tropical latitude and the minimal variation in daylight length between summer and winter.

So is DST still effective? Or is it a relic of a bygone era? According to the website, the use of DST has caused significant jumps in energy costs in various parts of the world, in some parts up to 4%. In the US alone, DST supposedly tacks on an extra $434 million in energy costs annually. So maybe it’s time to get on board; after all, only 20% of the world’s population relies on DST, and 14 countries have abandoned the practice since the turn of the 21st Century. Is DST really on board with cutting-edge energy movements? Or are we in need of springing ahead in our thoughts and practices?

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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