While most of us are preparing for a sleep-deprived week in mid-March (not you, Hawaii and Arizona), I could not help but wonder: “What’s with Daylight Saving Time (DST) and why do we all agree to go through this every year?” What I’ve found is that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding DST in the USA, and I wanted to address some of them ASAP!
From Grammarian to Agrarian?
DST was first implemented in this country on March 31, 1918, as an energy-saving measure during WWI (more on that later). That’s 150 years after the advent of the Spinning Jenny, and well into our nation’s self-transformation into an industrialized state with urbanized population centers.
If you think about it, losing an hour in the morning means farmers need to work extra hard to get their crops to market as everyone else is getting up an hour earlier. Dairy farmers are especially affected by the time changes, as their cows’ internal clocks are running on standard time – switching onto and off of DST leaves Jerseys and Holsteins in udder confusion!
In fact, the farm lobby fought hard against the introduction of DST, and were instrumental in advocating for its repeal, which congress enacted in 1919 by overriding a veto from President Wilson. DST was not instituted nationally again until 1942, when it was put in place for three years (continuously, no fall back) and re-dubbed “war time.” The farm lobby’s efforts are arguably the primary reason why a national peacetime DST was not instituted until 1966 – over some pretty heavy opposition from farmers.
An Incandescent Truth
As we touched on earlier, the main reason given for saving daylight has traditionally been saving energy. This was very likely a valid reason during the first half of the 20th century, when lighting was the major end-use for electric generation, but it has become less of a factor in recent times. The rise of electricity use in air conditioning and heating, televisions, and computers, as well as ongoing improvements in lamp efficiency, definitely chip away at DST’s validity as an energy-saving measure.
After the Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended DST to nearly eight months of the year beginning in 2007, studies conducted in California and Indiana suggest that the energy savings from daylight saving time are either negligible, or even that DST causes a slight increase in energy use at home. And since we are likely to stay out a little later during DST, we tend to use more gasoline driving the kids to soccer games and Pixar films.
Lighten Your Wallet
That extra hour of daylight is enough to make us a little more active on summer evenings – a bit more likely to shop, go out to a restaurant, barbecue, or engage in other post-work activities. And we buy more stuff – more appliances, grills, charcoal, propane, and more chips, candy, soda, and beer.
That’s why the two pieces of legislation that extended daylight saving time in 1986 and 2005 were vigorously lobbied for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, home improvement store chains, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, the gas and fuel industries, and the National Association of Convenience Stores. And of course, last but not least, the golf industry. Extended daylight means later tee times, which means extra course fees, and more golf gear sold. The potential boon for the golf industry was estimated at $200 million – in 1986 dollars!
And so, as we tee off for yet another DST, driving ahead and readying ourselves to play through another eight months under a solar handicap, I bid you all: “Spring FORE!-ward.”