Will Obama Repeal DST?
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Although I haven’t heard it from the President Elect directly, word is that Barack Obama wants to do away with daylight saving time, the century-old practice of turning clocks – analog and digital clocks, that is – forward one hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall. Biological clocks are another matter entirely. They can take a week or two to catch up with the inorganic sort.
The idea seems to have originated in a satirical piece written by Benjamin Franklin, who observed that people would burn fewer candles if they had an extra hour of daylight late in the day. During World War I, DST was sold to the public as a means of saving energy.
I grew up believing, because my parents said so, that DST was a favor to farmers, who got an extra hour to work when it got dark later. Farmers, I later learned, were less than grateful for the gift. Having to get up in the dead-of-winter dark to milk the cows is bad enough, but when the government stretches early morning darkness to late autumn and early spring, that’s just plain inconsiderate.
It’s an ill wind that blows no good, though. Retailers and sporting goods makers profit from the extra sunlit hour. Politicians on the stump have more time to campaign in the cheapest way possible, by walking around town and shaking hands. And DST as an energy saver is an easy sell to the general public; people can feel environmentally virtuous and frugal without having to make an real sacrifice.
But the benefits of energy conservation have yet to be proven, and a recent New York Times op-ed piece says that claim is of dubious validity. Researchers Matthew Kotchen and Laura Grant did a study in Indiana, where DST was established in 2006, giving them recent data with which to compare the use of energy and its results. They wrote:
“We found that daylight time caused a 1 percent overall increase in residential electricity use, though the effect varied from month to month. The greatest increase occurred in late summer and early fall, when electricity use rose by 2 percent to 4 percent.
Daylight time costs Indiana households an average of $3.29 a year in higher electricity bills, or about $9 million for the whole state. We also calculated the health and other social costs of increased pollution emissions at $1.7 million to $5.5 million per year.”
Any health benefits of an hour’s additional exposure to sunlight is probably outweighed by an increase in heart attacks associated with the spring time change. A study done in Sweden and reported in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the chance of a heart attack goes up during the first three weekdays after the springtime shift to daylight saving time. Researchers theorize that the cause is sleep deprivation.
Possibly, the strongest opposition the Obama Administration will encounter if it asks Congress to abandon DST will come from Wall Street. In an October 2007 interview on WBUR, an NPR radio station in Boston, Michael Browning, a professor at Tufts University and the author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, said that the real purpose of DST was to give US bankers an hour when banks in London were still closed in which to practice arbitrage, the technique of using the difference in price of an item in two markets to turn a profit.
The arbitrage hour is the most profitable in Wall Street’s day, Browning said. It’s hard to see how computer trading hasn’t wiped out the real time disparity in banking hours, but if Wall Street stands up and howls at the idea of doing away with Daylight Saving Time, we’ll know Browning was right.
There’s another energy-related argument to support repealing DST. If you harnessed all the human energy consumed in changing watches and clocks twice a year, and adjusting VCR timers, DVD recorder times, microwave ovens, kitchen stove timers, and various other electronics, you could probably run a Hummer for a month. Although why anyone would want to do that is a mystery to me.
Posted on November 24th, 2008 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Uncategorized