A Better Alternative to Daylight Saving Time

Exclusive to STR

February 27, 2007

With the new 'spring forward' time change happening three weeks earlier this year (on Sunday, March 11), it certainly will be an interesting 'turn' of an event. Brighter evenings in March, a later sunset on the spring equinox, and slightly-warmer temperatures late in the day will be just a few features of our favorite semiannual clock trick that has become known as daylight savings time (formally called Daylight Saving Time). Every year, we can experience the feeling of spring and the longer, lighter days that it ushers in. But recently, all of this has inspired me to think deeper about the practice of moving our clocks forward and back each year.

Ever since childhood, I've always been fascinated with astronomy, the solar system, the earth, and the seasons. One of my favorite books as a young child was Sunshine Makes the Seasons, and when playing with a toy town set, I often times would shine a flashlight on the town (pretending it to be the sun) and say, 'Hey . . . it's summer in this town! Here's where the sun rises -- in the northeast -- and here's the long, high path it takes across the sky!'

I also looked forward to the spring time change, since I could play outside longer. And today, I still enjoy it. But just because a person is fond of something doesn't mean that there can't be a better alternative.

Historically, Standard Time was officially established worldwide in 1884 as a way of synchronizing everyone's clocks within 15 degrees of longitude (i.e., denominating the time zones). The sun would reach its highest point each day at or around noon , and the purpose of noon was to split the day in half. Quite simple, isn't it?

But it was only 30 years later (during World War I) when governments began messing with this system. To save energy during the two World Wars, the U.S. government mandated daylight savings time nationwide, and then lifted the requirement at the conclusion of those wars. Some states then observed DST and others didn't, until Congress passed the 1966 Uniform Time Act, which enticed all but a few states to adopt it. ( Hawaii and Arizona still don't change their clocks, while Indiana has just begun to.)

Today, DST saves very little energy (i.e., about 1 percent), due to modern technology. Electronic devices, computers, appliances, and electric lighting have replaced inefficient candles, oil lamps, and kerosene lanterns of the past. The contemporary main purpose of 'springing forward' seems to be for daytime workers and schoolchildren to enjoy more sunlight after hours, such as for outdoor evening activities. And the reason for 'falling back' later in the year is to prevent the sun from rising too late in the morning as the days become shorter. (In December and January, for example, the sun wouldn't come up until almost 9 AM in the western portions of the time zones if on daylight savings time.)

As for me, I absolutely am not a morning person, and absolutely loathe having to be someplace before sunrise. I also like walking outdoors in the evenings, especially if it's still light out.

So naturally, I'm quite satisfied with the current system, and experience no jet lag when changing the clocks. At times in the past, I also thought it would be fun to 'summer forward' an additional hour from mid-spring though late summer, so the sun would stay up until almost 10 PM where I live!

But if somebody like me -- who enjoys the present timing system -- can say, 'Wait a minute,''or a second'or an hour''I've got a better idea than changing our clocks, which would give people like me all the extra daylight hours we'll need,' then you certainly should pay attention.

The concept is simply this: let's stay on Standard Time all year round, while a slight majority of us arise, work, play, and conk out an hour or two earlier each day as the days grow longer -- all without touching the time. Fair enough? It gets even more superior when you examine the details.

(For semantic purposes, throughout the remainder of this article when referring to 'springing forward,' 'summering forward,' 'falling back,' and 'wintering back,' I'm talking about schedule alterations, and not time changes. Who's to say that one must manipulate his clock in order to spring forward?)

Under the microscope, daylight savings time is really nothing more than a plethora of politicians prattling from their pedestals with some typical garden-variety, one-size-fits-all decree about exactly when almost every person in the country should spring forward and fall back. Forget about their local sunrise times. Pay no attention to their personal preferences or to the nature of their businesses. Just make everyone goose-step groove to the shuddering sound of the mechanical clock as we tormentingly twist its arms twice a year to trick ourselves into thinking that it's an hour later than it really is.

Obviously, the government has done yet another excellent job of what rulers do best: convincing the populace that it cannot survive without their programs, projects, and guidance. 'How could I retire without Social Security?' 'How could I become educated without regime-owned-and-operated schooling?' And finally''How could I enjoy more sunlit hours after work in the spring and summer without daylight savings time?'

I will address the latter question.

As the days lengthen throughout the winter and spring, people and businesses could examine their local sunrise times, their own preferences, and the nature of their enterprises, and could determine for themselves if and when to spring forward and/or summer forward with their own daily schedules. For example, those who work from 8-5 could also work 7-4 and 6-3 at different times of the year to take advantage of the earlier dawns and extra daylight hours. Various entertainment events, and even those pesky TV stations, could run their programming earlier as the days get longer.

Furthermore, a larger percentage of the people and businesses in the eastern sections of the time zones -- such as Chicago -- most likely would spring/summer forward at earlier dates, and would fall/winter back at later dates, compared to those in the western sections -- such as Amarillo . (The sun rises and sets earlier as you travel eastward.) The act of summering forward also would be more common in the eastern parts than in the western ones, due to this fact.

For instance, New York City exists in the eastern region of the Eastern Time Zone, while Indianapolis resides in the western portion of it. According to the online Old Farmer's Almanac (the rise/set page is very fun to tinker with, by the way), the sun starts rising before 7 AM Standard Time in New York City on February 7, but does not do so in Indianapolis until March 13. The sun also begins rising before 6 AM Standard Time in NYC on the spring equinox (March 20), but that doesn't happen in Indianapolis until April 21.

Obviously, the majority of New Yorkers who wished to shift their schedules would probably do so about a month before most Indianapolites.

On the autumn side of the equation, it's the opposite. The sun first rises after 6 AM Standard Time in Indianapolis on August 19, but not until October 9 in New York City . And it starts rising after 7 AM Standard Time in Indy on October 20, but not in NYC until December 1.

So in late summer and fall, more Indianapolites would switch their way back toward the original 8-5 arrangement at earlier dates than many New Yorkers would, to preserve their morning sunlight on their commutes.

Working from 6-3 (instead of 8-5) during the majority of the spring and summer without daylight savings time may seem a little crazy, but wait until you view the following table! (I personally compiled it from playing around on the Old Farmer's Almanac's rise/set page.) It's a list of the local sunrise and sunset times of various cities on the summer solstice -- June 21 -- on Standard Time.

City Sunrise Sunset

Boston 4:07 AM 7:25 PM

New York City 4:25 AM 7:31 PM

Indianapolis 5:16 AM 8:16 PM

Atlanta 5:27 AM 7:52 PM

Chicago 4:15 AM 7:30 PM

Kansas City 4:52 AM 7:48 PM

Oklahoma City 5:15 AM 7:49 PM

Amarillo 5:33 AM 8:05 PM

Houston 5:21 AM 7:25 PM

Denver 4:32 AM 7:32 PM

Phoenix 5:19 AM 7:42 PM

Seattle 4:11 AM 8:11 PM

San Francisco 4:48 AM 7:35 PM

Los Angeles 4:42 AM 7:08 PM

(Keep in mind that dawn arrives approximately 30 to 45 minutes before sunrise, while twilight takes place about that long after sunset.)

So during the late spring and early summer on a 6-3 work shift, the sun would be well above the horizon on the morning commute. You also would receive about five or more hours of daylight after finishing the workday, which is an hour more than an 8-5 shift on DST.

Of course, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at 4 AM, 10 AM, and 4 PM might seem a bit awkward, but not after reaping the huge benefits of extra daylight with this schedule! Note that in the eastern sections of the time zones at that time of year, it already would be light outside at 4 AM.

Internally, our bodies pay very little attention to man-made clocks, but a great deal to daylight and darkness. Being 'dark and early' sounds extremely gruesome, gloomy, unnatural, and unhealthy, while 'bright and early' sounds warm, fluffy, fine, and dandy.

For those of you who work daytime careers, who absolutely are not morning people (as I'm certainly not), which would you prefer: appearing at your job at 7 AM with it pitch black outdoors? Or at 6 AM with the sun high above the horizon, blazing brightly as ever? I'd take the 6 AM sunshine over the 7 AM darkness anytime.

By now you might be asking, 'But what about all those folks who don't want to change their schedules throughout the year, such as this fine gentleman?'

No problem. They could find an employer that doesn't require them to do so -- as I'm quite sure there'd be plenty of them. Some daytime employers would allow flexible hours, some would mandate schedule changes, and others would forbid it. And as for emergency services personnel, and those who work evening and night shifts . . . they rarely, if ever, would seasonally tamper with their work hours. In fact, most of them probably already dislike DST , anyway, along with farmers.

I would guess that in this free-market alternative to daylight savings time, about 40% of the population would never change their daily schedules, 30% would choose to spring forward at some time, but not summer forward (including most schools and TV stations), and the remaining 30% of the populace would both spring and summer forward. And no matter what they choose to do, they all would have one thing in common, as long as they're in the same time zone: their clocks would all be showing the same time, with the sun peaking at or around noon perennially!

Pretty neat, huh?

It would make the largest number of people happy, and no one would fear somebody imposing his personal 'light-headed' time preferences on everyone else through the force of the regime. Businesses, families, and individuals could put forth the best use of their sunlit and nocturnal periods throughout the year in ways that appeal to them the most.

The more I think about it, the sillier the notion becomes that we must change our clocks in order to enjoy more daylight hours after the end of our daytime work shifts. It's time to get the government politicos out of the clock-management business, and out of our daily and nightly lives altogether. They've ticked and tocked their cuckoo talk long enough. Don't you think so?

As for me, my concluding thought is'

Hickory Dickory Dock.

The rulers ran up the clock.

The clock struck eight

Or nine,'no, wait!

Hickory Dickory Dock

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Joe Goodson's picture
Columns on STR: 6

Joe Goodson is happily building his life in the lovely city of Chongqing, China, and is currently studying the Chinese language full-time at Chongqing University. In his spare time, he enjoys dance-pop music, walking, hanging with friends, gold bullion investing, and natural health.