Why do we have daylight savings time?
Daylight savings time means “spring forward, fall back.” It was first adopted in 1916 in Germany as a way to conserve coal during wartime. It benefits retail, sports, and other activities that benefit from late afternoon sunshine, but it hurts agriculture, especially dairy farmers whose animal-stock can be disrupted by schedule changes, and also those who need to harvest crops after the morning dew evaporates.
The idea has been around for a long time. In 1784 Benjamin Franklin jokingly suggested that Parisians could conserve candle use by getting people out of bed earlier in the morning. And Roman water clocks used different scales during different months of the year. But the idea really gained currency in the US and Europe in the 1970s as a result of the energy crisis. Some states have never opted in, however. Hawaii, for example, doesn’t see much need to adjust its clock, due to its tropical latitude.
The effects are somewhat in doubt. Some studies indicate that changing the clock does reduce energy use and traffic accidents. After all, it’s safer to drive in the daylight. Other studies, however, note that our biological clocks don’t reset as easily as the ones on the wall, and productivity goes down when we “spring forward.” We miss that extra hour of sleep.
World time zones. Source: Wikipedia
In response, researchers have proposed abolishing time zones all together, adopting universal time for transportation and trade, while allowing cities and states to set their own local time. After all, the current system is a crazy-quilt patchwork of hour, half-hour, and 45-minute differences. And maintaining local time would allow local businesses and government offices to keep regular hours. But will our smart-phones and watches be able to tell where we are and when it’s time for dinner? It seems that’s a recipe for more confusion.
And if we just used universal time, some folks would have to get used to waking up at noon and eating dinner at midnight. Although for my teenage boys, that wouldn’t be much of an adjustment at all.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer