On March 9 at 2 a.m., clocks will be set forward one hour for daylight saving time. But do we actually “save” anything? Here’s the scoop.
Putting the savings in daylight saving time
Studies are mixed on the benefits of daylight saving time. A National Bureau of Economic Research report on the state of Indiana looked at counties where some observed the time change and others did not. Researchers found that while lighting demand dropped for those on DST, use of air conditioning increased, canceling out energy savings.
A study by the Department of Energy touts an overall .03 percent savings per year by adding on the extra four weeks of daylight saving time. And the study argues that gas use has not gone up, which some claimed would be the case as people drive to more activities with extended daylight hours.
“In millions of dollars or savings per person, it’s minimal,” Hendrik Wolff, a University of Washington economics professor who worked on the DOE study, told Yahoo. His more recent University of Washington paper suggests an alternative argument for the benefit of the extended daylight hours: combating obesity.
“We looked at changes of outdoor vs. indoor behavior.” During daylight saving time, “People engage more in outdoor activity and less indoor TV watching,” he said.
Perhaps, Wolff suggests, it’s time to think of daylight saving time as a tool for the Department of Health to manage. Or how about the Let’s Move campaign. Paging Michelle Obama.
Ben Franklin’s modest proposal
Benjamin Franklin often gets credit for proposing daylight saving time. A nice story, but it’s not exactly true. Instead, Mr. “Early to bed, early to rise” put forth an idea in a 1784 satirical Journal of Paris essay, “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light": Residents would save money on candles if they got up with the sun instead of their usual wake-up time of noon.
When the U.S. saw the light
The idea failed to see the light of day until 1883, when U.S. railroads instituted a standardized time for their train schedules. That time change was imposed nationally during the First World War to conserve energy, but was repealed after the war. It again went into effect during World War II.
After that, it was up to the states to decide if they wanted it, and when it would start and end. Congress finally enacted the Uniform Time Act in 1966, which standardized the beginning and end of daylight time for the states that observed it. In 1974 and 1975, the energy crisis moved Congress to enact earlier daylight start times. They were reversed when the crisis ended.
Since then daylight saving time had always been in April — until the Energy Policy Act of 2005 ordered the time change to begin earlier starting in March 2007.
Not everyone’s a fan
Although there are now some eight months of daylight saving time, not everyone was behind the time change. Farmers have railed against it for the last century, Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,” told Yahoo.
“They considered it an insult to natural time or God’s time,” especially before electricity when they took advantage of natural daylight, Downing noted.
But you can’t beat it for playing outdoors. “There are more people living on golf courses than farms,” Downing added.
“For people in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a social benefit that we’ve come to think of as almost our due, to extend the evening in summer.”
How to stop the clocks
If you want to ignore daylight saving time, head to these places that don’t change their clocks: Hawaii and Arizona (except for the Navajo Nation), American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands all decline to observe daylight saving time, according to the Department of Energy.
Related: Time to do away with daylight saving time?