If time flies, who's the pilot?

Image of alarm clock In Canada, the provincial and territorial legislatures are charged with the authority to determine whether or not Daylight Saving Time (DST) should be adopted and, if so determined, when it should be implemented. In the Province of Ontario, the Time Act R.S.O. 1990 defines the geographical boundaries of the time zone to be used and specifies the transition dates between alternating periods of Eastern Standard Time (EST) and Daylight Saving Time (DST). Accordingly, Eastern Standard Time (-5:00 UTC) is used east of 90W whereas Central Standard Time (-6:00 UTC) is used west of 90W. Moreover, the legislation also provides that DST shall be one hour ahead of EST and that "Daylight Savings Time shall be used between the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November". Prior to 2007, the conventional transition dates were the first Sunday in April and the last Sunday in October however, keeping in step with legislative changes that occurred in the United States, the Province of Ontario ammended the legislation. The government of the day cited our "extensive and inextricable links" between our countries as justification for the change.

First implemented in the First World War by Germany on 30 April 1916, the primary objective of Sommerzeit was to conserve energy as part of the war effort. At the time, incandescent lighting represented a significant portion of Germany's energy consumption and any reduction in electricity for domestic purposes could thus be channelled directly into the war effort. The United Kingdom would follow suit by adopting DST in May 1916 and, following their entry into the war in 1917, the United States would adopt DST in early 1918. The war's end in 1918 did not, however, bring about the demise of DST. Rather, its history was just beginning and its remarkable journey would undergo a multitude of enactments, ammendments, adjustments and legislative repeals in various countries which continues to this day.

Given its varied and somewhat haphazard history, not surprisingly, DST has been heralded by its advocates and sharply criticized by its detractors. Those able to exploit the added hour of daylight in the evening, such as retailers and those participating in after work activities, find favour with DST. Conversely, those individuals whose vocations are inextricably tied to the sun can be quite ardent in their opposition to DST. Moreover, the controversy has been exacerbated precisely because there does not seem to be any consensus on one simple question: "Why adopt DST?"

Advocates have long argued there are significant energy savings to be realized by adopting DST while opponents have dismissed such claims. The National Research Council of Canada, in a report entitled The Effect of Daylight Savings of Lighting Energy Use: A Literature Review concluded that: "The existing knowledge about how Daylight Saving Time affects energy use is limited, incomplete, or contradictory. Many conclusions are the result of expectations alone, are based on constrained assumptions, or are older than 25 years.". Accordingly, I would argue, any rationale dependent upon energy conservation is tenuos.

Most of the literature on the economic effects of DST, limited as it may be, concerns itself with energy consumption. Nonetheless, there has been modest research which consider the impact of DST in other areas of the market. For example, Skeptoid.com, in its cogent article entitled Daylight Saving Time Myths, triumphs there are economic benefits of DST arguing that: "During the warm summer months when it's possible to do so in comfort, people like to be out and about in the evening. They like to go out for dinner, drinks, or a movie, or wander through stores and galleries. They also like to play golf and tennis. Whenever they do these things, they spend money. Lots of money, in the collective.. Another study, Losing Sleep at the Market: The Daylight Savings Anomaly (American Economic Review: September 2000), acknowledges a profound relationship between daylight saving time and the financial markets which "is both statistically and economically significant". Positing DST's negative effect on the financial markets as a consequence of sleep desynchronosis, it suggests that "in the United States alone, the daylight savings effect implies a one-day loss of $31 billion on the NYSE, AMEX and NASDAQ exchanges".

Yet another area of discussion in the ongoing debate considers how DST might affect personal health. Advocates of DST, outlining some of the health benefits, suggest "it offers more time to participate in outdoor activities and allows people to reap the benefits of the sun at the same time". Suggesting the time change may, in fact, have detrimental health consequences, Swedish researchers "found that the number of heart attacks dipped in the fall when the clocks were set back whereas the spring's transition to DST "had the opposite effect".

Not surprisingly, both camps of the debate are also at loggerheads with respect to issues surrounding public safety. For example, a 1975 Department of Transportation study in the U.S. concluded that "overall benefits might be realized ... in areas of energy conservation, overall traffic safety and reduced violent crime". At the request of Congress, the the National Bureau of Standards evaluated the 1975 DOT study and "found no significant energy savings or differences in traffic fatalities. It did find, however, statistically significant evidence of increased fatalities among school-age children in the mornings".

Given the apparent lack of consensus and, more importantly, a lack of empirical evidence to support either side of the debate, it becomes difficult to identify any rational justification for alternating to and fro daylight saving time. That is not, however, the same thing as saying there is no rationality in daylight saving time and that it should therefore be abandoned. It is analogous to a groundhog trying to determine which side of a road to graze on. One side of the road may offer very little benefit over the other. It is, rather, the act of bouncing from one side of the road to the other that poses risks and bares the consequences.

Conduct a straw poll among your circle of friends and acquaintances in an effort to determine which they prefer. Standard Time as observed in the winter months? Or Daylight Saving Time as observed during the summer months? When you discover the vast majority of groundhogs prefer the grass on one side of the road over the other you might start asking why you're continually forced to cross the road?

Finally, there is no actual saving in daylight saving time. Daylight is a function of the earth's position in relation to the sun. What we can do, however, is manipulate our artificial time to make more practical use of the daylight at our disposal. It is rumoured that a First Nations elder wisely asserted, "Only a white man would cut twelve inches of cloth off the bottom of a blanket, sew it onto the top of the blanket and somehow think the blanket was longer."

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 03 March 2012