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Spring is coming — and as New York ushers in a new season, Daylight Saving Time is upon us. But as we change our clocks tomorrow (Spring forward, remember?) it seems like the perfect time to delve deeper into the reasons why we have DST in the first place.
DST begins each year on the second Sunday in March, when we lose an hour of beauty sleep as clocks are set forward one hour at 2am. We are then free to enjoy the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind until the first Sunday in November, when clocks are turned back one hour and we plunge into a reliance on SAD lamps to combat the joy of 4:30pm sunsets.
While DST is implemented in over 70 countries worldwide (though different countries start and end it on different dates), there are some exceptions, including within the US, where Indiana only joined the DST crew in 2006, while Hawaii and part (!) of Arizona abstain.
Does this all seem arbitrary? Well, it is and it isn’t. For thousands of years, ancient civilizations practiced regularly adjusting time, as in Italy, where the Romans used different scales for different months of the year to monitor changes in solar time. There was no publicly recorded suggestion to formalize the practice, however, until 1784 — when Ben Franklin, living in France at the time, wrote a satirical essay suggesting that Parisians would save money on candles by changing their sleep schedules.
He wrote: “Every morning, as soon as the sun rises, let all the bells in every church be set ringing; and if that is not sufficient? Let cannon be fired in every street, to wake the sluggards effectually, and make them open their eyes to see their true interest.”
Some took his word literally — but despite his cheeky suggestion, there was no official policy put in place in France or otherwise. It would be over a century later before the idea was again mooted, this time by New Zealand entomologist and astronomer Geroge Hudson, who in 1895 proposed changing the clocks each spring to give him more time for researching insects. Still, no official policy was put into place until Canada adopted the practice in 1908.
During the First World War, Germany and several European countries began to employ forms of DST, followed by the US. But the policy was later repealed until the Second World War, when President Franklin D Roosevelt implemented DST as “War Time”. The time zone was temporarily renamed “Peace Time” after the conflict ended, and while not standardized until the Uniform Time Act of 1966, the practice would remain in most of the US to the present day.
Over the years, the pros and cons of DST have been passionately debated, as experts assert that there is little discernible evidence of energy saving-benefits put in place by the practice. While the early days of DST centered around an agrarian period when an extra hour of sunlight was necessary to complete work and household electronics were scarce, the prevalence of today’s phones, computers, and air conditioners guarantee that electricity use doesn’t end when the sun goes down. When Indiana joined the ranks of DST in 2006, researchers found a 1 percent increase in residential electricity usage, costing the state $9 billion.
Additionally, there is evidence that DST messes with more than our collective electric bill. A report in Scientific American revealed the health effects of sudden, hour-long shifts on our bodies and minds: “Chronobiologists who study circadian rhythms know that for several days after the spring-forward clock resetting — and especially that first Monday — traffic accidents increase, workplace injuries go up and, perhaps most telling, incidences of heart attacks rise sharply.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 18 states have begun pushing forward legislation to get rid of the time change, and New York may soon join them. Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara and Republican Sen. Joseph Griffo have proposed a bipartisan bill suggesting that New York forms an agreement with Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to eschew the “fall back” change in November and enjoy extra evening light year round. While the bill would need federal approval and the repeal of the 1966 Universal Time Act, its creation furthers the ongoing conversation on whether there is a real need for us all to feel completely out of whack for a portion of the year.
At least one NYC meteorologist is ready for a sunnier future without DST. New York Metro Weather co-founder John Homenuk told Gothamist: “It’s one of those things that just boggles the mind. I don’t understand why it still happens. There are some arguments on the other side that ‘it was designed for agriculture’ or whatever. That’s all fine and dandy, but it’s 2021 and we don’t need to have a sunset at 4:20pm at all. Ever.”