Debate Forum Left 11/03/10

DST: The Greatest Bargain

By Benjamin Tomkins

Benjamin Tomkins

In preparation for this article I spoke to people in all kinds of professions about how Daylight Saving Time impacts their business. The vast majority of them -teachers, gas station attendants, and shopkeepers- find it mildly annoying to lose an hour of sleep once a year, but are otherwise indifferent. Oddly enough, the person I figured would care the most, an international airline pilot, actually cared the least. Apparently, because their job is 24/7, they deal primarily in Coordinated Universal Time (Greenwich Mean Time), and only care about local time as far as they don’t miss their next flight.

Where I did get a stronger opinion was from the guy at Young’s Jersey Dairy. He has two issues to contend with. 1) His cows want to be milked at a certain time each day. DST upsets their schedule, and they get pissy. 2) He’s running a business that operates into the evening. More sunlight at the end of the day means more money. Interesting. So I asked him how the cow thing worked out for him, and he said it’s actually not that big a deal. Cows handle DST the same way we humans do. It’s annoying for 2-3 days until they adjust, and then they’re fine. No, they don’t explode like over-sugared homemade beer bottles in the garage. The later evening hours, however, were a huge boon to the business. His description of the increase in profits was “very significant,” and personally that makes me happy. I love Young’s Jersey Dairy and have since I was a kid.  I recommend you use that extra hour of daylight to go eat a doughnut with your family and feed the goats. But more to the point, if you understand the dynamics of Young’s Jersey Dairy you really understand the breadth and scope of both sides of the DST argument.

One large pile of studies clearly shows that DST is great for health, profits, and the environment because people are outside longer, they spend more money on mini golf and ice cream, and they don’t use their lights as much. Next to that is another large pile of studies that says that it’s clearly bad for health, profits, and the environment because people have their sleep patterns interrupted, businesses lose revenue from people screwing up the time changes, and they use their air conditioners for an extra hour a day. Now I read a lot of these things, and by the end I was forced to conclude that I have no idea which side wins the statistics war. Frankly, neither do the statisticians. At the very least they seem to cancel each other out, and that should lend credence to the “let’s not bother because it’s annoying” argument. Well, ordinarily I would agree, except that for me, the issue is ultimately not about the numbers. It’s about understanding what a human being and a cow have in common.

Look at the cow. Just like humans, the cow is physiologically designed to wake itself up when the sun comes up. The days don’t start at 7:30 a.m. EST. Instead they start at sunrise, whenever that may be. Cows only understand 6:30 a.m. as far as we have trained them to follow the arbitrary construct of our clocks that we have imposed upon their lives. This is not natural. Similarly, 5,000 years ago, if the sun rose at what we now call 5:13 a.m., people got up, opened their shops, and got on with their day. But then, some jerk invented a clock, broke our day into 24 hours, and decided that we should structure things so that we all start working at 9 and get off work around 5. Now that makes sense from a purely analytical point of view, but at that moment our physiology became sorely outdated. Now we have to wake up at 7:00 a.m. every day no matter when the sunrise is, and our bodies don’t really like this. So if you really think about it, DST is nothing more than a half-hearted attempt to reconcile the fact that our current system of time doesn’t match our internal wiring any more. We are obsolete for our environment. For instance, without DST, the sun would rise in June around 4:30 a.m. every day. Do you know what you can do in modern society between the hours of 4:30 and 5:30 in the morning? Nothing. Those hours are a total loss. As far as I’m concerned, DST is the greatest bargain we’ve ever struck with ourselves. We get up an hour early one day a year, and in return we get an extra hour of fun time after work for the next seven months. Then, if you’re really that wiped out from the festivities, you can sleep in for an extra hour on November 7. Awesome.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.


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