Changing Clocks

This week, America is an hour more than usual behind Europe. In the European Union, Summer Time begins on the last Sunday in March – all time zones change at the same moment, at 1am UTC (Universal Time a.k.a. GMT). So yesterday, the clocks went forward one hour. The clock change won’t happen in the US until the first Sunday in April – at the end of this week.

The original “invention” of Summer Time was made by William Willett who lobbied parliament in 1907. However, it was generally ridiculed and it wasn’t until the first world war that the economic argument started to be taken seriously. An American based time site attributes the original idea to Benjamin Franklin back in 1784. There is a difference of opinion in the two sites I have researched for this post, since webexhibits.org will have it that Germany led and Britain followed in May 1916, but greenwichmeantime.com states that Britain led in April 1916…

Daylight Saving Time originally started in World War One, as a means of saving energy. More light in the evenings meant that less energy was used to light homes and use appliances because people are more likely to be doing outside activities when it is light outside. The main argument aside from energy saving is the reduction of road traffic accidents, as there is more light for children coming home from school and adults coming home from work.

Europe harmonised the date by EC directive in 1981. Before that, an exception would be made in Britain if the last Sunday in March was also Easter Sunday. It wasn’t until 2002 that this was fully passed into British law with the Summer Time Order.

As of 2007, the US are experimenting: the Energy Policy Act will come into force and move the clock change to the second Sunday in March. The Department of Energy will report to Congress to find out if there is a positive economic impact in moving an hour of sunlight from the morning to the afternoon a couple of weeks earlier. Britain experimented between 1968 and 1971 when there was no change made to clocks in summer. This meant that schoolchildren would leave home in the dark, and it wasn’t particularly popular – my Dad often spoke about that time and thought it was a stupid decision to not change the clocks. The difference in summer daylight is more pronounced the further you get from the equator, so the north of England and Scotland suffered the most in this experiment.

Morocco, being much closer to the equator, does not have a notion of summer time at all. Living there for 4½ years I got used to not having a clock change twice a year. Coming back to Europe it’s been hard these past couple of years readjusting. This morning is particularly difficult since yesterday was Nathan’s first clock change. While he remains blissfully unaware of the time, we are completely out of kilter since he was up at 5.30am on Sunday (old time) but since it was 6.30am (summer time) we decided to get up and start his day. Needless to say, I’m feeling particularly peaky this morning.

12 Responses to “Changing Clocks”

  1. Marinade Dave Says:

    Here in Florida, it’s almost as hot at night as it is during the day – from April to well into October – so the air conditioning is always running. I don’t think we save much energy because of it. Being closer to the equator, When I talk on the phone with friends in NJ there is a 15 minute discrepancy because of the distance apart from each other. In other words, one of us has 15 more minutes of sunlight, depending on which solstice it is.

  2. Simon Says:

    Hi Dave,

    I was in Haiti which is not far from Florida, and I couldn’t live with aircon at night for two reasons. Aside from the noise I felt guilty about the enery consumption, especially since Haiti is so poor in resources as it is.

    Having a ceiling fan meant I managed to sleep anyway. It’s amazing how you can get used to it, as long as you have cotton sheets and an ambient temperature not much above body temperature.

    In the US, when I was in Dallas, I was shocked to find aircon set to such a low temperature (say around 70°F) when outside it was above 100°F. Why not set the aircon to around 85°F? Just imagine how much saved energy that represents for a big hotel!

    -Fruey

  3. carrster Says:

    I LOVE daylight savings time and am sooooo looking forward to the extra hour of daylight in the evenings.

    When I lived in Los Angeles, I didn’t notice much of a difference between summer and winter. A friend of mine visited me here in MN (she lives in LA) in May a few years ago and exlaimed “My god, do you live in Iceland?!” as it was still light at 8:30pm….I said – give it a month and it’ll be dusk at 10pm!! She was amazed.

  4. Marinade Dave Says:

    I pretty much keep my AC set at 78. Of course, I like to save energy, but what’s the difference between running it or turning on your heat in other climes to stay warm in the winter?

  5. Simon Says:

    Hi Carrster,

    I love late evenings watching dusk fall with a glass of wine on my balcony. Out here it can stay light until about 11pm :-D.

    -Fruey

  6. Simon Says:

    Dave,

    I have no idea of the difference in energy consumption compared to heating. Here, I keep my heating at around 70°F when I need it, but in summer it can be 85° and I’d like to have aircon, but it would be expensive to heat in winter and cool in summer… not forgetting the cost of an aircon install! It’s pretty rare to see aircon anywhere except in stores where they like to keep customers cool so they’ll stay longer and buy more.

    -Fruey

  7. Vacances Scolaires Says:

    I remember reading somewhere that the clock change had something to do with keeping cows’ stomachs in sync with their milking patterns as they wake up and start eating earlier as it gets lighter in the summer…
    I could be wrong though Fruey – you’re explanation sounds much more plausible.
    Vacances Scolaires

  8. Aidan Says:

    I only realised the time-change over here when I turned up for a late-night Saturday shift the other day – suddenly the idea of clocking off at 4am, not 3am, then getting up again at 8 seemed so much more traumatic for the one hour’s difference…

    My other thought was that Easter was late this year – since my main associations of the Spring clock-change were from the years it would coincide with Easter Sunday, and especially my mum’s enthusiasm for heading up to church for the traditional 6am start – which seemed dazing enough, let alone when transmuted into 5am ‘in real terms’…
    Well, she enjoyed it… I usually got by on a sleepily dazed grunt which translated into ‘Not for me this year, thanks, I’ll see you at a more civilised breakfast-time a fair few hours from now…’
    Every year there seems to be a movement, especially in Scotland, for the abolition of the WWI-dated clock change rigmarole, backed up by road safety campaigners. Seems entirely sensible to me…

  9. Simon Says:

    Vacances,

    I’m not sure about the cows. Maybe farmers liked daylight savings because the milking time would be an hour later for them, but I expect the cows were pretty indifferent to the whole thing. Maybe there was a Dairy Farmer lobby to keep the hour change. It must at least have been moo-ted in bovine parliament.

    -Fruey

  10. Simon Says:

    Aidan,

    Nasty when you don’t realise the hour is changing, and you turn up late or don’t allow an extra hour in bed.

    Strictly speaking, if my research was correct, Easter Sunday has never coincided with the hour change because the UK deliberately moved the hour change to the week after Easter should Easter Sunday be the last Sunday in March.

    As for the Scots, seems to me they complained when the hour didn’t change, and still complain when it does. Bit of a Highland game.

    -Fruey

  11. carrster Says:

    Ah yes – I used to get out of work at 11pm and the sky would still have a tinge of light to it. Sure beats it getting dark at 4pm in the dead of winter!! ugh!

  12. Simon Says:

    Carrster,

    I’m glad I never got out of work at 11pm, but I did late shifts until 10pm. Unless you count bar work when it would be past midnight, and always dark, when I got out!

    -Fruey