With the clocks springing forward last Sunday March 10th for Daylight Savings Time, some may wonder what practical use the now long-standing tradition holds.
Commonly abbreviated as DST, the practice is upheld in almost all stretches of North America and Europe, while being quite rare almost everywhere else in the world. To broadly summarize the purpose of DST, time turns forward a set amount around spring for most countries while turning backwards the same amount later in the year, after warmer months have passed.
There are many reasons behind the concept of Daylight Savings Time. One of the most cited reasons refers to the extra sunlight that is given throughout the day. As the clock turns forward, darkness falls later than usual until the fall, when we reverse the time back an hour. This allows for more hours of sunshine for people to use after they are done with a typical 9 to 5 work day. A clear consequence of providing extra time after work hours is that the same amount of darkness is essentially tacked on to the beginning of each morning, delaying the sunrise. This is a pretty unfortunate consequence in the winter months of most countries that utilise DST, with the sun refusing to show itself until as late as 7:50 a.m. during Canadian winters.
Another commonly referenced benefit of DST is conservation of energy. Intuitively, it makes sense that having more time in the sun to work with throughout the day would result in a decrease in energy consumption. However, this is a controversial point of DST, and one that is not heavily supported or refuted by studies. For this reason, the environmental benefit remains unclear.
Opposition to DST certainly isn’t negligible, and the practice as a whole is controversial for particular industries. Institutions that are most active at nighttime, such as clubs, understandably resist DST as it cuts down on hours of operation for such activities. Beyond this, the simple act of instantly changing the time can prove confusing for many.
In order to avoid significant disruptions to common school and work schedules, shifts in time are usually administered during the weekend, late at night. Workplace activities are highly unlikely to be affected, and most people will be asleep at this time, resulting in, at most, a mild disturbance in sleeping pattern. Adjustments of one hour are most common, but shifts as low as twenty minutes and as high as two hours have all been observed before. As a general guideline, the Northern Hemisphere turns their clocks forward during March and backwards during November, but this is subject to change according to country.
While the idea of DST was first pitched and formally discussed in 1895 by George Hudson, an entomologist, its first official usage was not until many years later, in 1916. From then to 2019, many parts of the world have seen intermittent usage of the practice.
Most of the world’s population do not observe DST at all. Those that are near the equator do not undergo a significant change in the ratio of daylight to moonlight as the seasons change, making DST an unjustifiable practice. In a similar vein, those that are close to the poles of the Earth experience extremes of daylight and moonlight, making DST a futile effort to normalize this ratio.
Most electronic devices nowadays automatically adjust their internal clocks in accordance with the DST protocol specific to their region, so keep your eyes peeled this upcoming November, when they will turn back one hour, ending DST for the year in Canada.