Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daylight Savings Time

Cuckoo Clock

(Transcript of today's For the Birds)

This past weekend was the shortest weekend of the year for most Americans, thanks to Daylight Savings Time—one of the oddest inventions people have come up with since cuckoo clocks. When I was helping count raptors at Hawk Ridge and was counting all migrating birds along the North Shore during the 1980s and 90s, we always used Standard Time on our data sheets—we called that “Bird Time,” since birds don’t change their clocks at all, but really, birds don’t use any clock system. True bird time would use sunrise and sunset as references, and the number of daytime and nighttime hours, and thus the actual time, would change daily throughout the year.

The concept of Daylight Savings Time is often credited to Ben Franklin, who did mention it in 1784. But the modern idea of daylight saving was first proposed in 1895 by George Vernon Hudson, and it was first implemented during World War I. Germany adopted it first, on May 1, 1916. The rest of Europe adopted it as the war progressed, and the US adopted the Standard Time Act in early 1918—that year, Daylight Savings Time started on March 31, but it was so unpopular that Congress abolished it after the war. Roosevelt instituted year-round Daylight Savings Time, which he called War Time, on February 9, 1942; it lasted until the last Sunday in September in 1945.

In 1946, many states and localities started using summer Daylight Savings Time. This caused great difficulties for the transportation industry because of bus, train, and airline schedules, so in 1966, Congress adopted the Uniform Time Act, mandating Standard Time within the already-established time zones, and provided for Daylight Savings Time to begin at 2 am on the last Sunday of April and to end at 2 am on the last Sunday of October. States were allowed to exempt themselves from Daylight Savings Time only if the entire state did so, and every state that did adopt DST was required to begin and end on the established dates. The first two states to exempt themselves from Daylight Savings Time were Arizona and Michigan. The Department of Transportation is still the governmental agency in charge of regulating time zones and Daylight Savings Time. The law was amended in 1972 to allow states with split time zones to exempt either the entire state or the part of the state on a different time zone.

Energy savings statistics from Daylight Savings Time are sketchy. In 1986, Congress amended the Standard Time Act to begin Daylight Savings Time on the first Sunday of April. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 extended Daylight Savings Time to the second Sunday of March, ending it on the first Sunday of November. Some congressmen advocated the continuation into November specifically so children could have another hour of daylight for trick-or-treating.

From 1970 until 2006, most of Indiana did not observe daylight saving time, but the entire state started to do so in April 2006 after eight counties in western Indiana were shifted from the Eastern Time Zone to the Central Time Zone. Arizona had rejected Daylight Savings Time in 1967, mainly on energy conservation grounds, because an extra hour of daylight after working hours meant that people coming home from work operated their air conditioning an hour longer each day. The main electrical savings comes from residential lighting in early evening. A 2008 study examined electricity billing data in Indiana before and after it adopted DST in 2006, and concluded that DST increased overall residential electricity consumption by 1–4 percent, due mostly to extra afternoon cooling and extra morning heating; the main increases came in the fall.

Birds pay no attention to the our clocks, and people who like to go birding in the morning before heading to work resent losing that precious hour of daylight when it really matters. But people who don’t mind leaving for work in the dark as long as they can enjoy some light after work seem to like it. But like most things, Daylight Savings Time is what it is, and those of us not in Arizona or Hawaii are stuck with it for at least another 8 months.