Fact-Checks, Quick Hits

Has Daylight Saving Time Outlived Its Usefulness?

By Josyana Joshua

This week, most of the United States moved their clocks back one hour as Daylight Saving Time ended. People look forward to getting that extra hour of sleep in the fall, and they complain about losing an hour in the spring, even though they gain an extra hour of sunlight. But where did the notion of  “daylight saving”  originate and is it still doing what it was meant to do?

Daylight Saving Time did not originally start in the U.S. According to the Department of Energy, the idea of shifting the clock can either be credited to a New Zealand entomologist, who first brought up the idea in 1895, or an Englishman who campaigned the idea to the British Parliament in 1908. Despite who is credited with the idea, Germany was the first country to implement Daylight Saving Time in 1916.

More than 100 years ago, in 1918, two years after Germany started the time shift, President Woodrow Wilson implemented the change to  save energy for the war effort. Shifting one hour ahead reduced the need for artificial light, in turn conserving fuel. According to an article by Smithsonian Magazine, daylight saving was not received well by rural and evangelical opponents and people complaining that the shift “… upset astronomical data and made almanacs useless, prevented Americans from enjoying the freshest early morning air, and even browned out lawns unaccustomed to so much daylight.”

It was repealed within the year. A couple of years later, the idea of the time shift returned. New York and other cities had their own version of daylight saving time, this time, to support spending money at department stores.

It wasn’t until 1966, when Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, that every state had to observe daylight saving for six months out of the year. At 2 a.m. on the second Sunday in March, all clocks are moved forward one hour. At 2 a.m. on the first Sunday in November, clocks are set back one hour, returning to standard time.

For years before the Uniform Time Act, states’ participation in daylight saving varied. Some states observed it for four, five or six months out of the year and some cities and towns within these states also varied, causing confusion and dozens of different time zones.

But is Daylight Saving Time still doing what it was intended to do? According to National Geographic, the move has not saved energy as it intended. In most cases mentioned, cities saved energy by reducing lighting and electricity use, but that was  cancelled out by things such as increased air conditioning and car use. Environmental economist Hendrik Wolff told National Geographic, “Everywhere there is air conditioning, our evidence suggests that daylight saving is a loser.”

Some states, such as Arizona and Hawaii, have stopped participating. Also, United States territories Puerto Rico and Guam do not participate.

There are also some negative outcomes associated with Daylight Saving Time. According to a Congressional Research Service report, the time shift can lead to a loss of sleep, which in turn affects our health. A 2001 study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that fatal car crashes increase the Monday after the spring shift of Daylight Saving Time.

Truth be told, Daylight Saving Time is no longer serving its original purpose and even has created new problems. But despite these facts, it seems like the shift is here to stay.

November 5, 2019

About Author