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Every autumn we smile at the thought of an extra hour of sleep as the clocks ‘fall back’, and every spring we sigh when we lose an hour as the clocks ‘spring forward’. It is that depressing time of year again as the clocks will, once again, be going forward in the early hours of Sunday morning.
How did this practice begin?
It is impossible to add hours to a day, but the number of useful hours of daylight can be increased by setting the clocks forward an hour during the seasons when the sun rises early. This “saves” an hour of daylight and is usually in place between the months of April and October.
Daylight Saving Time first came into existence during World War I when fuel for generating electricity was in short supply. The extra hour of sunlight reduced the use of artificial light and saved energy, which was essential for the countries involved in the war.
Germany was the first to adopt Daylight Saving Time in 1915, followed by the UK in 1916 (which at that time included Ireland) and the US in 1918. The US repealed its daylight saving law until World War II, when it was implemented once again. Meanwhile Britain retained daylight saving time, but with the outbreak of World War II the country began to put the clocks forward by two hours for the years 1941-1945, and again in 1947.
After the war ended the UK continued to use Daylight Saving Time. Although it experimented with using Standard Time from October 1968 to October 1971, it did not prove popular and the changing of the clocks was retained.
Why do we continue to use Daylight Saving Time?
More than 70 countries around the world continue to use Daylight Saving Time today. The further away a country is from the equator, the more useful it is. Although many people believe the clocks are changed to benefit farmers, they are mistaken. In the past farmers lobbied against Daylight Saving Time, because they work in the early hours of the day and the shift can upset milking cows.
Daylight Saving Time is actually more beneficial for city dwellers, because it means the sun is still high when offices, shops and factories close at the end of the working day. This allows people to spend more time outdoors before dark.
Today, its main purpose continues to be to save energy by making better use of natural sunlight. It can reduce energy consumption by encouraging people to spend more time outdoors too. Its use is also believed to decrease the number of traffic accidents by ensuring that roads are naturally lit during the hours they are busiest.
Speaking to The Telegraph, one British MP even argued that Daylight Saving Time extends the tourist season in the UK and that putting the clocks forward an extra hour would boost the British economy by £3.5 billion each year.
Opposition to Daylight Saving Time
Although many countries continue to put the clocks forward during the summer months, there is a surprising amount of opposition to this practice.
In Russia several changes to Daylight Saving Time caused protests. For a period the country was permanently in Summer Time, but now it is permanently in Standard Time which continues to be opposed by a number of its citizens who have deemed it as an “eternal winter”.
A number of studies have indicated that having an extra hour of daylight does not necessarily reduce energy consumption. In 2007, a study of Australia’s energy consumption conducted by UC Berkeley showed that Daylight Saving Time reduces the amount of energy consumed in the evening, but the increased demand for energy in the morning cancels this benefit out.
While according to another study conducted in the US state of Indiana, Daylight Saving Time actually increases residential electricity usage, because any reduction in energy consumption due to natural lighting is negated by the increased use of air conditioning. Researchers believe this may be a particular problem in the Sunbelt states of the US, where air conditioning enabled mass migration.
There are a number of petitions online aiming to stop Daylight Saving Time. It is easy to understand why people in the US and Australia might oppose it when some states are on standard time, while others are an hour ahead. One petition even claims it has a negative impact on health and is responsible for increases in the price of energy.
Some studies demonstrate that when the clocks go forward people are more likely to have heart attacks and work related injuries due to losing out on an hour of sleep. While a study in the US analysing the data from 21 years of fatal traffic accidents showed that more accidents occur on the Monday after the clocks have been put forward, than on any other Monday.
Ireland is unlikely to abandon Daylight Saving Time any time soon, but despite the possible dangers of putting the clocks forward tomorrow, good weather is on its way.
Photo by: A-giâu