Debate Forum Topic 11/03/10

Daylight Saving: A Waste Of Time?

The main purpose of Daylight Saving Time (called “Summer Time” in many places in the world) is to make better use of daylight. We change our clocks during the summer months to move an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. Countries have different change dates, but the practice is worldwide. Even so, the practice is not without its critics.

The rationale behind the our annual switch to DST was that energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting homes is directly related to the times when people go to bed at night and rise in the morning. In the average home, 25 percent of electricity was used for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families were home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, the amount of electricity consumed each day is decreased. We have that American Renaissance Man, Benjamin Franklin to thank for our bi-annual changing of our clocks.

At the age of 78, as he neared the end of his long tenure as American delegate in Paris, Benjamin Franklin was encouraged by his close friend, Antoine Alexis-Francois Cadet de Vaux, editor of the Journal de Paris, to work on simple yet important problems to occupy his busy mind. As a result of this urging, Franklin penned a series of letters for their mutual amusement.

One such piece took the form of a letter to the Journal de Paris, concerning the economy of lighting in the home. In it, he parodied himself, his love of thrift, and his passion for playing chess until 3 a.m. and sleeping until noon. Cadet de Vaux published the letter in the Journal on April 26, 1784, under the English title An Economical Project. Franklin began the letter by noting that much discussion had followed the demonstration of a new oil lamp the previous evening, concerning the amount of oil used in relation to the quantity of light produced.

Once again on this night Franklin had eventually gone to bed in the wee hours, but was awakened at six in the morning by a sudden noise. Surprised to find his room filled with light, Franklin at first imagined that the new oil lamp was lighting his room. He soon discovered a different source for the light. Looking out his window, Franklin saw the sun rising above the horizon, its rays pouring through the open shutters.

“I looked at my watch, which goes very well, and found that it was but six o’ clock; and still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for his rising on that day. I looked forward too, and found he was to rise still earlier every day towards the end of June; and that no time during the year he retarded his rising so long as till eight o clock. Your readers, who with me have never seen any sign of sunshine before noon… will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of his rising so early; and especially when I assure them, that he gives light as soon as he rises. I am convinced of this.” He began calculating, for the sheer love of economy, the utility of his discovery – the true test of any invention. Franklin demonstrated that Parisians could save “a total of 64,050,000 pounds annually, an immense sum.”

It would be years before Franklin’s theory would become law. On April 30, 1916, Germany and its World War I allies were the first to use DST as a way to conserve coal during wartime. Britain, most of its allies, and many European neutrals soon followed suit. Russia and a few other countries waited until the next year, and the United States adopted it in 1918.

Question Of The Week

Does Daylight Saving Time serve any practical purpose or is it a waste of time?


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