It’s that time of year again! As of Sunday 28 October 2018 (from 2am in the morning), the clocks will go back and we’ll all get an extra hour in bed. If you find yourself in an empty office or workplace, or having taken your kids to school only to discover the classrooms all deserted, then you’ve probably forgotten to change your alarm clock. Go back to bed.
These days most of our timepieces are digital (and they’re usually smart enough to adjust to Daylight Saving Time automatically). However, enough Europeans find the whole business of summer and winter time so annoying that a public consultation by the European Commission back in July received a staggering 4.6 million responses. Almost 85% of respondents said they wanted to scrap Daylight Saving Time entirely.
The original intention of Daylight Saving Time was to save energy and maximise the amount of daylight hours available for work, though there’s little evidence that such savings are at all significant. In fact, sceptics argue that switching between summer and winter time causes unnecessary stress, confusion, and even adverse health effects such as depression and increased risk of traffic accidents. In northern countries, like Finland, the winter months are anyway dark, so little daylight is actually saved. Is it really worth it?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Charles who thinks abolishing Daylight Saving Time is a bad idea. He doesn’t seem to think it will really deliver much benefit, and thinks the EU should instead focus on much more important matters. Is he right?
To get a response, we put his comment to Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, a social democratic MEP from Finland (the northernmost country in the European Union, so perhaps the country where Daylight Saving Time is least useful). What would she say?
He’s right, there are many other things [for the EU to focus on] as well. But, because we do have [an EU] Directive that coordinates the time when we switch the clocks, we cannot abolish [Daylight Saving Time] without agreeing to it now [at the EU level]. That’s why we need to act at the European level: not to set the date when you have to switch [your clocks], but to set the date when we’re not switching… It is not for the Member States to end [Daylight Saving Time] after the EU started to coordinate it.
To get another reaction, we also put Charles’ comment to Michael Downing, author of the book Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. What did he think would be the benefits of scrapping Daylight Saving Time?
The tangible benefit of [abolishing Daylight Saving Time] is that clock time has very limited utility, which is basically: predictability and synchronicity. One of the problems with daylight saving, because there has not been an international body governing our use of it, is that clocks around the world are changed on an annual basis by different policies for daylight saving. More than half the countries in the world no longer use it. We’ve really given up the idea of predictability and synchronicity, which was the whole idea of coordinated time – that is, the time zone most countries observe. So, I think that’s the one benefit.
But I think Charles’ question really points to another problem which is that we’ve never had an international body which was responsible for coordinated time. So, federal governments – in this case the EU for Europe – have to step in at some point to try to coordinate the clocks of its member nations.
Next up, we had a comment from Malcolm, who criticises a “one size fits all” approach to things like time zones and daylight saving. Surely every Member State has a different situation, so it would be better if they each decided independently what works best for them?
How would Finnish MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri respond?
First of all, Malcolm needs to know that’s it not one ‘one size.’ We do have these geographical differences that mean even I – [someone] who is working for a united Europe on many issues – am not going to say to geography or to the sun when it should come up and down. That’s why I think we also shouldn’t artificially switch the clock, but [rather] adapt slowly for the minutes that the sun is out per day.
But Malcolm must also know that there is not one proposal from the Commission that says which [timezone] to take. If you look at the map: Britain and Spain [should be] in the same zone [but] Spain is now – together with France and Germany – not with the UK. So, after this proposal that we stop switching back and forth, Member States may choose which timezone to take. Yes, there will also be many timezones in Europe also after this, from the Turkish border to Ireland. It would be too much to harmonise [all of Europe within] the same time zone.
How would Michael Downing respond to the same comment?
Well, the premise is absolutely right that the Sun is not evenly distributed across the planet. That’s part of the problem of a global society is that we don’t all live under the same conditions. So the project of uniform time, with the time zones and then daylight saving when we began to try to coordinate our adjustment of those clocks to preserve daylight, was a way of unifying a dis-unified geographic situation. So the premise is correct in the sense of the problem that is created.
But without any coordination of the clocks, letting people set their own times, it becomes impossible to do simple things like predicting what time you will arrive in a particular city because cities within 50 miles of each other may be setting their clocks according to apparent noon, which can be as much as an hour off. This really is a problem of industrialisation and the change that happened in the 20th century when the industrialised world adopted clock time. Once we adopt clock time it’s, itself, an analogue situation. It’s not a natural time. We’re no longer looking up at the Sun and judging our time of day. That’s what creates the need for a unified plan that doesn’t necessarily equally apportion daylight across the planet.
Should we stop Daylight Saving Time? Does it save us energy and lead to greater productivity during daylight hours? Or is it all a waste of time? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!