Politics & Current Affairs

Daylight Savings Time: a Controversial Topic4 min read

Daylight Savings Time has been used since the 1900s but is now becoming the centre of a heated debate. 

Some countries around the world want to cease its practice, while others defend their right to alter the time of day.

What is Daylight Savings Time?

In the United Kingdom, the clocks go forward by an hour on the last Sunday in March and go back by one on the last Sunday in October. British Summer Time (BST) is the timing when the clocks are forward. This prioritises evening daylight, which is why people refer to it as Daylight Saving Time (DST). In October, when the clocks go back, the United Kingdom returns to Greenwich Mean Time(GMT).

History of Daylight Savings Time

Modern-day DST has existed for over 100 years, but there is evidence of previous time adjustment dating back even further. Roman water clocks were adjusted throughout the year to adhere to the solar time.

Benjamin Franklin is often referenced as the first to propose DST. In a 1784 essay while an envoy in Paris, he speculated that 200 million years could be saved by shifting one’s sleeping patterns, predominantly through reducing candlelight by waking up earlier. As his essay was satirical, nothing came of the idea until the 1900s.

The first place to ever implement DST was Port Arthur, Ontario, 1 July 1908. Germany and Austria followed it in 1916. The United Kingdom, France, and many other countries involved in WW1, adapted the practice within a few weeks to save energy. After the war, most of them reverted the clock to standard time, returning to DST during WW2.

George Vernon Hudson, a New Zealand scientist, first proposed the idea in 1885. The primary difference between his suggestion and the modern implementation was his proposed two-hours shift.

However, it wasn’t until 1905 with William Willet, a British builder, that DST was truly a possibility. Willet’s plan to move the clocks forward by 20 minutes each Sunday in April and back again in September caught the attention of the MP Robert Pearce. In February 1908, he proposed the first Daylight Saving Bill in the House of Commons. Due to opposition from many, the bill never passed. Willet died in 1915, a year before the United Kingdom implemented DST.

Arguments in Favor and Against Daylight Savings Time

Often, one of the most cited reasons for, or against DS,  is its health impact. Steve Calandrillo, a University of Washington School of Law professor has argued that permanent daylight time can reduce crime amongst other benefits.

Directly opposing this, David Avery, a professor emeritus in the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and an expert in seasonal affective disorder (SAD), states that DST or permanent standard time (wintertime, when DST is not in effect) would better align with natural sleep patterns. Additionally, research suggests that with increased daylight in the evenings, there are fewer traffic accidents, a reflection of the lower number of cars out at dark.

Another key reason behind DST is to allow for more light in the day. But with artificial lighting becoming more efficient, this need has declined.

Proposals to End Daylight Savings Time

Less than 40% of the world’s countries use DST. Russia moved to year-long daylight saving time (“summertime”) in 2011, but saw sunrise at 10 and 11 AM in some regions, leading to the 2014 move to permanent “wintertime”. Many other countries and the EU are considering, or have already ceased to practice Daylight Savings Time.

In March of 2018, the EU voted to stop using DST in 2021. Member nations will decide whether the EU is to remain in winter or summer time. Presently all 28 member states change clocks concurrently as part of a unity effort launched in the 1980s.

Conservative Party members saw this as an attempt on the EU’s part to tighten control over member nations. John Flack a Conservative MEP stated: “…the EU wants too much control over our lives – now they want to control time itself.”

The public consultation that led to the reconsideration of DST showed 84% of 4.6 million responses supported ending DST.

However, there is a discrepancy in voting distribution, as 3.79% of Germany’s population voted in comparison to the United Kingdom’s 0.02%. Regardless, the EU will be moving forward with the change in 2021, whether the United Kingdom will participate depends on Brexit.

Europe is not the only place preparing to get rid of DST. Earlier this year, Washington State’s Senate voted 46-2 to adopt permanent daylight saving time, following California’s initiative from last year. Also, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington D.C. are considering a similar move.

Alexandra Clay


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