The 2005 energy bill that President Bush signed in August of that year included a provision that adds four weeks to daylight-saving time this year. Daylight Saving Time will start Sunday, three weeks earlier than in previous years and end a week later than has been customary, on the first Sunday in November. Daylight-saving time (DST) used to start on the first Sunday in April and end on the last Sunday in October.
If we had not been consumed by the retirement of Islander and her replacement by Island Home, a transition that has united in curiosity the entire Vineyard population, which is generally tumultuous with disharmony and complaint, we might have joined merrily in the debate over this time change. Of course, whether one approves or not, we shall leave standard time behind on Saturday and spring ahead by the time we awaken Sunday. Nothing to be done about it. But, the inevitability of anything, never mind its utter completion, has never quashed the Vineyard impulse to argue, or to revisit previously satisfying argument, so we might as well review the several sides of the time wrangle.
The polls tell us that most people favor extending DST, but a minority has fought on. The airlines complain that it will be expensive to adjust schedules, although travelers know that airline schedules are nothing more than lighthearted approximations of flight times. Why would a smart cadre of transportation executives even bother messing with published schedules because of a mere hour's change? Schools in some parts of the country worry about the bells and the students who will be waiting for the bus in the morning darkness. Cell phones and computers may be troubled by this controversial Congressional action and refuse to go off standard time, and the law be damned. I got a message on my cell phone yesterday, ordering me to be in touch with the company to reset my phone. I didn't do it, because upon checking, I discovered that the message was just spam. I suppose it caught my eye, because it wasn't inviting me to buy cheap medications or get in touch with an African lawyer to tell him where I want my millions to be wired.
Supporters of the new law, for example golf courses, theme parks and businesses that invite folks to play outdoors, claim that DST will save these businesses money from their electricity budgets. These pro-DST folks also claim the change may save 100,000 barrels of oil every day, because we'll switch on interior and exterior lights later, including at big sports events and concerts, under the lights in huge stadiums. Plus, we'll have more fun, playing golf, tennis and visiting water parks, all of which are most often daylight activities. And the farmers, who nowadays work on and off the home farm, will have a month's worth of extra daylight hours to get things done late in the day, which may mean a record harvest, which may mean lower prices, which, sadly, will never reach us Vineyarders, because low prices globally never seem to save us a penny.
Still, leaving aside the passion with which the anti-DST folks make their case, science appears to support the likelihood that daylight-saving time does save energy and improve the lives of most people. The benefits, mostly unavailable to those who live near the equator where daylight and darkness are about equal, are more extensive in summer than winter. In winter, the daylight-saving time advantage is offset by the need for more lighting in the morning.
"In spring and fall, the advantage is generally less than one hour," according to a history of DST published on webexhibits.com. "So, daylight-saving time saves energy for lighting in all seasons of the year, but it saves least during the four darkest months of winter (November, December, January, and February), when the afternoon advantage is offset by the need for lighting because of late sunrise. In addition, less electricity is used because people are home fewer hours during the "longer" days of spring and summer. Most people plan outdoor activities in the extra daylight hours. When people are not at home, they don't turn on the appliances and lights. There is a public health benefit to daylight-saving time, as it decreases traffic accidents. Several studies in the U.S. and Great Britain have found that the DST daylight shift reduces net traffic accidents and fatalities by close to one percent. An increase in accidents in the dark mornings is more than offset by the evening decrease in accidents."
So, this 18th century notion of Ben Franklin's that we might save energy, improve people's lives, and have more fun by shifting the daylit window one hour away from the beginning of each day has caught on. The science appears to confirm the wisdom of it, and, although they are grumpy about it, most people like daylight-saving time, although that's no reason to cut off debate.