March 26, 2019

Daylight Saving Time Is Not the Enemy

“Twice a year, Americans come together to complain about time. In November, we set our clocks back and complain that we will now have to suffer shorter days, facing the gloom of an afternoon sunset. In March, we set our clocks forward and complain about a lost hour of sleep, as well as darker mornings when we wake up. These gripes are all perfectly fair. What is unjust, however, is the unlikely scapegoat for these grievances: Daylight Saving Time. Many Americans have come to blame DST for their clock- and sunset-based woes. If you are one of them, I am here to tell you that you are dangerously mistaken.

Let’s begin with a review of terms that everyone should know but hardly anybody does. When we “spring forward” this weekend, we will be entering DST—the period between March and November when the sun sets later in the day. When we “fall back” in November, we will enter Standard Time—the period between November and March when the sun sets earlier.

Our collective failure to grasp this basic terminology has led to a lot of confusion. Every November, countless Americans condemn DST because they conflate it with Standard Time. They think that the dreaded winter months of early sunsets and seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, are the fault of DST. I understand why: It is not obvious why daylight is “saved” when it is backloaded toward the end of the day. The terms are ambiguous, which leads would-be critics of Standard Time to unleash their anguish on their true ally, DST.

To see how widespread this misapprehension is, look at coverage of California’s Proposition 7, which easily passed in 2018. The Los Angeles Times described the measure as “ending daylight saving time”; CBS called it “the first step of abolishing” DST. That is incorrect, as these outlets would’ve known if they’d read the proposition, which is titled the Permanent Daylight Saving Time Measure. As that name indicates, the measure permits the state Legislature to implement year-round DST by a two-thirds vote after obtaining federal approval. The media’s inability to articulate the proposition’s purpose may have led to voter bewilderment, as illustrated in the CBS article, which features a California resident who asserts: “I don’t like Daylight Saving Time. It disrupts me every fall.” Given that DST begins in the spring, this Californian probably meant to assail Standard Time but inadvertently contributed to anti-DST fervor.”

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