Clock Time and Solar Time

The widespread availability of synchronized clocks only occurred very recently in human history. Before the widespread availability of synchronized clocks but after the regional availability (when a town may have a single clock) of clocks it was common for regions to have different clock times. This meant that 12:00 could occur at different points during the day in neighboring towns. Before the regional availability of clocks it was common for people to use solar time, which in most parts of the world varies throughout the year.

If you had a time machine and traveled back to Ancient Rome and told somebody that future humans will develop a habit of starting reoccurring events at the exact same point in a 24-hour period throughout the year, they would likely think you were crazy. However, modern humans seem to be incapable of comprehending anything else.

The debate between keeping the current biannual clock adjustments or settling on a single clock time throughout the year is once again raging. I admit that I’m biased towards using a single clock time throughout the year, but not strongly. My main interest in this debate is the arguments. Why? Because the arguments don’t actually address the issue they claim to address.

A big reason for the about-face? Whatever benefits might have been gleaned by giving people more sunlight in the evening during the winter, it also meant longer, darker mornings. Parents were suddenly sending their kids to school in the cold and the dark for months on end. As the Capital Weather Gang noted, such a change means the sun wouldn’t rise before 8 a.m. in Washington for more than two and a half months, between late November and mid-February. The morning darkness would linger even longer farther north.

This seems to be the predominant argument made by those in favor of keeping the biannual adjustment. My first observation is that having two annual one hour adjustments doesn’t fix this problem. I live in the Upper Midwest so I’m used to noticeably shorter days during the winter and longer days during the summer. Right before daylight savings time kicks in I’m beginning to wake up while the sun is rising. Just as I begin to adjust to seeing daylight when I wake up, I’m back to waking up before sunrise because of the adjustment to daylight savings time. It’s a minor annoyance, but school children in this area experience the same annoyance. Even though we adjust clock time twice a year children are still made to wake up and go to school in the cold and the dark.

There are solutions to this problem, but people seem largely unable to even comprehend them. One solution would be to implement more frequent smaller clock time adjustments throughout the year. For example, clock time could be adjusted by half hour increments four times a year or fifteen minute increments eight times a year. With enough granularity school children could always go to school after sunrise. Another solution is to adjust starting times to take sunrise into consideration. Instead of starting school at 08:00 every day, the starting time could be adjusted throughout the year. During one period school could start at 08:00, during another period it could start at 08:15, etc. Because sunrise doesn’t occur at the same time in every region, starting times would need to be region specific.

Let’s look at some other arguments in favor of maintaining the biannual clock time adjustments mentioned in this article and consider whether they actually solve the problem the claim to:

It puts clocks out of sync with Europe, which has standard time between late October and late March, creating problems in the trade and travel sectors.

Doing away with the biannual adjustments would put the United States out of sync with all of Europe. Except for Iceland, Belarus, Turkey, Georgia and Russia. Those European countries don’t observe daylight savings time (known as summer time in Europe). Moreover, no country in East Asia observes daylight savings time so when the United States changes its clocks, it’s out of sync with major trade partners and travel destinations such as China, South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

It makes it more difficult for various religions to practice rituals at home, such as sunrise prayers for Jews.

The mere act of living in areas where days shorten and lengthen throughout the year complicates observing such rituals. Jews living in the Barrow, Alaska would have to deal with 67 days of darkness between November 18 and January 23. Daylight savings time isn’t making the lives of Jews throughout the United States easier because daylight savings time doesn’t make sunrise uniform throughout the entire country.

It might actually increase gasoline consumption, given that people will have more time in the evening to go outside.

Quoting the same article:

A Department of Transportation study at the time concluded that the change actually had minimal impact on saving energy and might have actually increased gasoline consumption. As Michael Downing, the author of a book on daylight saving time, wrote in the New York Times in 2005:

This decision did not soften the blow of the OPEC oil embargo, but it did put schoolchildren on pitch-black streets every morning until the plan was scaled back. A Department of Transportation study concluded that Nixon’s experiment yielded no definitive fuel saving. It optimistically speculated, however, that daylight saving might one day help us conserve as many as 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

The same Michael Downing mentioned in the immediately above quote apparently also made the argument that abolishing daylight savings time might (which is the keyboard here because its inclusion ensures Downing doesn’t need to provide evidence in support of his argument) increase gasoline consumption. If he knows something that the Department of Transportation doesn’t about daylight savings time and its impact or lack thereof on gasoline consumption, it wasn’t provided in this article.

Despite the widespread belief that it’s meant to benefit farmers, they actually really dislike it and have consistently lobbied against it since World War I.

Just as “might” was the keyboard in the previous argument, “farmers” is the keyword in this argument because it’s used in such a nebulous way. Which specific farmers? My gut tells me that a farmer in Northern Minnesota may have a different opinion on the matter than a farmer in Southern Texas. I would also like to know the reasons given by “farmers” opposing the abolition of biannual clock time adjustments. Without those arguments it’s impossible to address whether biannual clock time adjustments address them.

If these argument don’t address the issues they claim to address, are the people making them stupid? No. If they’re guilty of anything, it’s being ignorant of the actual problem. Those arguing in favor of abolishing the biannual clock time adjustments also seem to be ignorant of the actual problem since they seldom mention it. The actual problem is that there is no connection between clock and solar time. Establishing such a connection would require either changing our habit of starting reoccurring events at the same point in a 24-hour period or making more frequent finer grained adjustments to clock time.

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