The End of Daylight Saving Time as We Know It

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

Saturday night, or Sunday morning, marks the end of this year’s Daylight Saving Time (DST). At 2:00 a.m., the clock will be turned back to 1 a.m. and hence all over Guelph patterns will be disrupted: students will sleep one more hour (or, more likely, drink for one more hour, since bars will close an hour later), people will wonder why Desperate Housewives isn’t on, and, my personal favourite from experience, teams will show up for Sunday morning intramurals and wonder where the hell the other team and the referee are.

But here’s what most people haven't found out yet: next year, and from there onwards, DST will start and end at a different time. It will start on the second Sunday of March - as opposed to the first Sunday of April - and end on the first Sunday of November - as opposed to the last Sunday of October.

Now, DST is obviously an artificial phenomenon. Human society, in the name of energy conservation, chooses to alter its work and sleep cycles so that we have less sunlight in the morning (when everyone is either asleep or at work and thus not likely to consume as much energy per person) and more sunlight in the evening, when people aren’t working and either stay home with the lights on or might want to engage in outdoor activities.

Of course, accurately measuring DST energy savings is technically impossible; since our energy consumption and our living habits have changed so much since the time we lived without DST, all we can go by are educated estimates. This is precisely the argument used by opponents of DST, who argue that the benefits are doubtful, but the problems posed by changing the time twice a year include altered sleep patterns which lead to lower productivity and a greater number of traffic accidents, countless work hours lost by the people that forget what’s going on, not to mention the time and effort that we spend telling each other to remember about it.

Well, if you’re not too convinced about DST in the first place, then you’d better make extra preparations for the new and extended DST starting next March. Courtesy of the 2005 Energy Policy Act passed by the US Congress, the dates when DST start and end will be changed to the aforementioned days.

When Canada, where DST is determined by the provinces, learned about this incoming change, the premiers of the larger provinces voiced their concerns. “We’re not anxious to have a disconnect between us and our largest trading partner,” said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty after the Act was passed last year. Business leaders took McGuinty’s cue: “To be out of sync will cause some real difficulties and will add some costs to it,” added Len Crispino, president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Air travel and supply chain issues were cited as potential problems. Most of Canada, except for Saskatchewan, which has never implemented DST anyway, and the Maritimes, have decided to adhere to the US change.

Besides the fact that Canada’s daylight changes are much more extreme than the US’s, due to the fact that it is further north, there are other issues concerning the change. As a part of an national Energy Policy Act, the modest savings in energy that may be derived from enlarging DST are completely off-set by the subsidies and perks given to fossil fuel and nuclear energy providers, as outlined in the same bill. This piece of legislation that is supposed to help us conserve some energy by shifting our lives by an hour is the same that denies even minor commitments to renewable energy, hence making all those savings pointless.

To add insult to injury, the April-to-March change contained in the Act is a matter of energy policy that has been on the table since the 70s, but the October-to-November change was introduced by Wyoming Republican senator Michael Enzi “for the safety of our children,” he argued in a 2003 statement about the incredibly named Halloween Safety Act, “[on] the night so many of [them] will be out walking the streets of their neighborhood in pursuit of their favorite holiday treats.” That’s right, DST was moved one week further so that kids in Wyoming can go trick-or-treating in broad daylight (who wants to do that anyway?). Never mind that in Canada that means that more people are going to have to drive to work or school in the dark at the beginning of the snow season.

So when we bid goodbye to old-school DST this weekend, maybe we should take a moment’s reflection to think about this strangely organized bunch of human beings that we call society. Because we do a lot of things for the strangest reasons.

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