What is Daylight Saving Time?
This year, Daylight Saving Time started a little less than a week ago on Sunday March 14, and will end on November 7 2021. Daylight Saving begins on the second Sunday of March at 2:00 AM, when clocks move forward to 3:00 AM, and ends on the first Sunday of November at 2:00 AM, when clocks move backwards to 1:00 AM. This means that every year, people who follow the time changes will experience one 23 hour day and one 25 hour day. To remember, think “Spring forward, Fall back”! But have you ever wondered who had the idea to begin with and why we still do it? Does everyone follow it? Is there any benefit to changing the clocks twice a year? Keep reading for a quick and dirty lesson on Daylight Saving Time!
Who started it?
You probably remember learning in your elementary school science class that the Earth’s axis is on a tilt, which means that as you move away from the equator, the amount of daylight you’ll experience varies more and more over the course of the year. It’s also why much of Canada and the US experiences seasons! In industrial societies like in much of Canada, where daily activities are scheduled on a clock-based system, the change in daylight can interfere with our schedules.
Several people independently thought of a similar solution to this problem. In the late 1700s, Benjamin Franklin proposed the idea of moving clocks forward in the summertime to conserve energy. He suggested his idea to French legislators as a way to burn fewer candles in the evening. By his reasoning, having an extra hour of sunlight in the morning with earlier summer sunrises doesn’t benefit anyone because they’re often asleep. But by adding an hour of sunlight in the evening, people can take better advantage of longer evenings, and save money on lighting while they're at it. It was suggested again by another English-born man in 1895 who was studying insects in New Zealand. Rather than an economic solution, George Hudson wanted to advance the clocks by two hours in the summertime so that he could have more sunlight in the evenings to collect his specimens.
The first city to implement a Daylight Saving Time policy was actually Port Aurthur, Ontario in July 1908! The time changes were only practiced by small municipalities here and there until WWI, when Germany implemented it to save fuel during the war. Europe and the USA followed pretty soon after, but the policy was mostly abandoned when the war ended. Daylight Savings was brough back in most of Europe and North America during the Second World War again, but it was actually enforced year-round to ramp up industrial production in the evenings as much as possible. When the war ended, it was up to individual countries to decide whether they’d keep the policy. Since then, there’s been all kinds of adjustments, enactments, and repeals!
Who does it now?
Less than 40 percent of the world actually observes Daylight Saving Time, so what’s the point? Well close to the equator, the amount of daylight doesn’t vary enough throughout the year to justify changing the clocks. At the other extremes close to the poles, the fluctuation in sunlight is so drastically out of sync with clock-based schedules that Daylight Saving won’t make a whole lot of difference. Especially since these parts of the world experience perpetual darkness during part of the winter, and perpetual daylight in part of the summer! There are also some societies that are agrarian rather than industrial, which means that daily activities follow a sunlight-based schedule rather than a clock-based schedule. This means that the structure of people's days will fluctuate with the changing daylight in middle to high latitudes.
It makes the most sense to change our clocks in the Spring and Autumn at temperate latitudes like where we live because, for example, the sun rises at around 4:30 AM in the summertime without Daylight Saving. Since most of us are sleeping at that time, it’s more practical to shift our clocks later by an hour to take advantage of that light in the evenings. Especially if you have a 9-5 job and you want to spend some time outside after work! So as a result, most of Europe and North America observe the time changes.
Fun fact time!
Did you know that Russia has actually converted to year-round Daylight Saving TIme? And despite covering a huge range of time zones and latitudes, China actually follows one time zone (China Standard Time) and doesn’t practice Daylight Saving at all. In fact, most Asian and African countries don’t observe it.
What about Canada?
In Canada, 9 of 10 provinces and 2 of 3 territories currently practice Daylight Saving Time, with lots of exceptions! Historically, Canada has closely or completely synchronized its observances with the United States to facilitate consistent economic and social relations, so the policy was federally adopted (and abandoned, and adopted again) around the same times as our neighbours to the South. Since 1987, it’s been up to provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to regulate the policy. Hence the exceptions in Saskatchewan, Nunavut, and many smaller municipalities all over the country.
And individual policies are still changing all the time! This past November, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario passed Bill 214 to establish a year-round observation of Daylight Saving Time there, which means clocks won’t fall back by an hour this coming Autumn. Clocks will then remain unchanged in the future. The province decided to switch to this policy as long as Quebec and New York State joined, so our days of “spring forward, fall back” may be numbered!
Pros and Cons?
The advantages and disadvantages of Daylight Saving Time are still up for debate. The energy savings as a result of the time changes, which was the original justification, are actually negligible since lighting has become much more efficient than burning candles or oil. In fact, some argue that adding an hour of daylight in the summer results in people using air conditioning for longer, which is the opposite of the intended effect. Daylight Saving might also disrupt human circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep with the time changes and potentially harming our health. And contrary to the myth that farmers prefer the extra daylight in the evenings for a longer day of harvest, surveys show that farmers are generally opposed to the policy. Dairy farmers are especially against it because cows don’t tend to cooperate with the time change, so milking schedules are often disrupted. And, in places like Russia where the clocks are permanently shifted forward by an hour, there have been many complaints about late sunrises in the wintertime.
For those who do observe Daylight Saving, summer evenings certainly feel much longer. More light at the end of the day means more time for outdoor activities for people that work full time. Studies have actually shown conclusive results that later sunsets change people’s behavior, becoming more active in the evenings and improving physical and psychological health! Research also suggests that there are also fewer traffic accidents, and cars on the road in general, with more sunlight at the end of the day. It might also encourage people to spend money later in the day, boosting the economy over the summer months. Overall, the extra time in the evenings that people get to spend outdoors is probably why Daylight Saving Time is still implemented.
What do you think? Is Daylight Saving Time archaic and confusing? Would you rather have a permanent extra hour of daylight in the evenings? Are you set in our light-saving ways?
Learn more about Daylight Saving Time in Canada and around the world here: