The longest days of the year are in June. Some people will tell you that the changeover from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time from late spring to early fall gives us an extra hour to enjoy all the extra sunlight. Some people will tell you lots of things.
If you cut a foot off one end of a rope and then attach the piece to the other end, you haven’t made the rope any longer. Because people adjust, and life adjusts, Daylight Saving Time (DST) doesn’t really lengthen the day. It doesn’t really save energy, the modern rationale.
DST was extended by a month in 2007 (mostly to “save energy”). A massive study by the California Energy Commission put the total energy savings at a maximum of 0.18 percent. At the same time, Indiana forced 15 rural counties that had been allowed to keep Standard Time onto DST, only to find that electric bills shot up, because electricity savings from “extra light” were eaten up by increased use of air conditioners.
Meanwhile, heart attacks rise about ten percent following the start of DST and they fall when Standard Time kicks in again in the fall. Morning sunlight is especially important to advancing the body clock, so the switch to DST disrupts sleep patterns. We see this in the increase in workplace accidents, auto accidents and “seasonal affective disorder” (depression) in the days after the time switch every year. It’s all very troubling in a country that’s already stressed out and where vacations and “down time” are disappearing.
Incredibly, you still hear people suggest that it’s somehow “for the farmers.” DST was despised by farmers from the start, especially in New York.
For most of the time there has been a New York, noon was when the sun was directly overhead, which is why sundials were commonly found in gardens, yards and village greens. It wasn’t until 1883 that the large railroads introduced Standard Time; if it was eighteen minutes past the hour in one place, then it was eighteen minutes past the hour all down the line.
There was resistance. For years, the big railroads refused to print schedules in anything but Standard Time and local papers like these ran conversion charts.
Laws get passed in wartime that can’t get passed in peacetime. In 1918, both Congress and the state legislature in Albany passed Daylight Savings and Standard Time laws. The federal law was repealed in 1919. The state law was very popular with some people. Factory workers, commuters and others who liked coming home in daylight loved it. Farmers hated it more than anything. They got up an hour earlier, still worked until sundown and went into town to find all the shops closed.
For years, DST was New York’s most divisive issue. In 1921, three dozen Senators and Assemblymen from cities and villages bolted the rural-dominated Republican caucuses in an unprecedented attempt to deny their party the votes to repeal. In a compromise, cities and incorporated villages were given a local option. For three decades, New York was split roughly half and half between rural areas on Standard Time and cities and villages on DST. Villages picked the date when DST started locally each year. It was a mess. All of Nassau County’s villages and cities picked Daylight Savings.
In 1955, New York adopted universal six-month DST. It was a bare-fisted demonstration of the new power of the suburbs, particularly Nassau County Republicans, over the farmers in statewide affairs.
Bills to repeal or adjust DST have received serious attention in 12 states this year. There are other options; creating two time zones permanently two hours apart has drawn attention. People adjust, life adjusts. We can adjust to something better.
Michael Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.