Putting Daylight Savings in Sync

Sunday, March 26, 2:00 a.m. Europe turns its clocks forward by one hour.

Like everybody else spending spring break on the Old Continent, I lose an entire hour of my life only to get it back the last Sunday in October. Not a problem, I say to myself. After all, that happens every spring--but this year it was inflationary.

Sunday, April 2, 2:00 a.m. North America turns its clocks forward by one hour. I am mad. Another hour gone forever! Why me? Couldn't I have spent last Sunday in the U.S. and this one in Europe?

And all that just because Benjamin Franklin decided to publish a whimsical essay in 1784 entitled, "Turkey versus Eagle, McCauley is my Beagle." In the essay, Mr. Franklin argues why the turkey--and not the eagle--should be the national bird. I can see his point, but why must he also involve himself with the fourth dimension to give farmers an additional hour of work each night? Couldn't he have published a more serious piece about the merits of getting up earlier? That way, he might have already achieved something in his own century and wouldn't have had to wait until World War I for personal glory. Only during the war effort did the U.S. and many European countries finally decide to adopt Franklin's Daylight Saving Time (DST) system to save energy and resources to aid the war effort.

DST is not just another military invention that spills over into our daily lives. It was first seriously proposed before WWI as a means to prevent wasting an hour of daylight. An hour more sunlight at night produces real savings for everyone. More natural light means less electricity and decreased heating costs. The lost hour of sunlight in the morning hardly plays a role during the summer, especially because the sun rises early in the northern temperate zones. In the winter months, the savings in the afternoon are offset by the increased need for artificial morning light. This reasoning provides a clear advantage for using DST from late March until the end October. It makes perfect economic sense.

The only question that arises is why I lost two precious hours of time this spring. If it's really just economics that influences the change from Standard to Daylight Saving time, shouldn't there be one day every spring when it is optimal to deprive everybody of one hour of sleep? For any given latitude, the date should be the same.

Not so in reality: Europe and Russia change to DST on the last Sunday in March; Canada, Mexico and the U.S. change on the first Sunday in April; and Israel doesn't even have a set day. (Its Minister of Interior decides on the date every year.)

The change back to Standard Time is even more varied. Israel turns back its clocks about the first Friday in September, Mongolia does it on the last Sunday in September and Europe, Russia and North America wait until the last Sunday in October to give their people that well-deserved hour of sleep.

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