The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 9, 2007


Spring forward and set those clocks ahead: the debate on energy saving

Daylight Saving Time begins this Sunday, March 11, at 2 a.m.

Like many good ideas about everyday life, Daylight Saving Time (DST) was probably the brainchild of Benjamin Franklin, who introduced it in an essay entitled, "An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light" in 1784, when he was minister to France. What he actually said in that essay was that the people of Paris should rise with the sun at 6 a.m. and go to bed when the sun sets instead of rising at noon and staying up wasting candles until midnight. Close enough.

In Franklin's time, clocks were set according to the local astronomical conditions around the world. There was, therefore, no standard time and there were no time zones as we know them. The system of time zones came into use in 1883 to standardize the railroad schedules, and in 1884 the system of international standard time, the same one we use today, was adopted at the International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, D.C.

Local authories change the time

In 1907, after the standardization of time zones worked its way into everyday life and consciousness, an Englishman named William Willett picked up the thread of Franklin's light- saving idea. He suggested moving clocks ahead by 80 minutes in four moves of 20 minutes each during the spring and summer months. Parliament debated the issue and rejected it and another idea of advancing the clock an hour in the spring and back again in the autumn. In both England and the U.S., however, the decision to adjust the clocks was left to local authorities. Most of the objections to this kind of time adjustment came from farmers, whose animals would not change their habits according to a clock change, and from train and bus companies, whose schedules would be confused as they tried to adjust them to local time preferences.

World War I changed all that and paved the way for national time adjustments. The British Parliament realized that a time adjustment could save energy during the war, and introduced British Summer Time (BST) in 1916. Clocks were set one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) during the summer months. The U.S. Congress followed suit in 1918, placing the country on DST for the remainder of the war. It was observed for seven months, but proved so unpopular that it was later repealed.

Daylight Saving in WWII

Congress reinstated DST in 1942 when the U.S. had entered World War II, and clocks were advanced one hour year-round until September 30, 1945. England put its clocks two hours ahead of GMT (Double Summer Time) during the summer months of the war, and one hour ahead during the winter months.

After the war ended, the British retained the original idea of BST, but in America, states and regions were free to use DST or not as they chose. The idea became popular: by 1966, about 100 million Americans were observing DST through local laws, but the situation was extremely confusing for the media and transportation agencies. That year, Congress tried to establish a standard pattern across the country with the Uniform Time Act of 1966. DST would begin on the last Sunday of April and extend until the last Sunday of October. Any area that wanted to be exempt could be so by passing a local ordinance. To this day, DST is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and most of Arizona. However, there seems to be enough standardization of time so that planes, trains, buses, radio and television can function.

Energy-saving measure

Over the last 40 years, DST has been affected more by energy supplies than by war: in 1973, after the Arab Oil Embargo, Congress put most of the nation on extended DST to try to save energy. In 1974 and 1975, DST lasted ten and eight months respectively and, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, saved 10,000 barrels of oil each day. Opposition from farming states ended this experiment in 1975, but a decade later, President Ronald Reagan extended DST to last for the whole month of April, starting on the first Sunday of that month and lasting to the last Sunday of October. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 was signed into law in August of that year and provides for the new start and stop period of the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November beginning this Sunday, March 11, 2007. On Sunday, we will get to see if our computers have adjusted, as they did in Y2K.

Effects of DST not known

Benjamin Franklin originally estimated that Parisians could save 64,050,000 pounds of candle wax and 95,075,000 livres (1784 French currency; in Franklin's words, "An immense sum!") in one year by adopting his early rising plan in the months between March 20 and September 20. The U.S. Department of Energy continues to monitor and study the effects of DST, but its latest report has not yet been released. Over the years, however, experiments with time adjustments have proven that organizing our day around the hours of natural daylight does save energy, and who knows? After a long winter of sun deprivation, that extra dose of vitamin D from the sun may keep us healthier too. Now if we could just learn to go to bed when it gets dark.

From the Mosquito January 23, 1974; also reprinted in As The Mosquito Saw It.

There's Daylight Time and CPS Time

At its regular meeting on January 8, [1974] the Carlisle School Committee (CSC) responded to parental concern for their children's safety during early morning bus pick-ups in semi-darkness by rolling the school day ahead for 30 minutes for approximately one month. Administrative concern about the frequency and inconvenience of schedule shifts (some children were destined to start their lunch period about 1:15) was alleviated by a decision to set school clocks back a half hour and thus alleviate a need for schedule changes when bus schedules were advanced. All CSC members and eight observers attended.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito