The Ritual

I began the “celebration” early. The older I get, the more of a bother it becomes. Maybe if I didn’t have to have things just so. But no: if we’re going to celebrate it, we need to do it right, no matter how tiresome the rituals become.

So when I broke out the watches – What? You thought I meant Halloween? Why, no. The kids have outgrown carving pumpkins and trick or treating, so the only nod in that direction was watching Igor, and the plastic skull I put on my desk at work (the only way I could get ahead). No, this is the ritual of moving the clocks back as we return to Standard Time. Then, in March, we’ll move to Daylight Savings Time with the excuse that it will save energy, except it won’t. Before it’s all done, it will end up spending more, no matter what the politicians or the DOE claims – and if they DOE really thinks it does, they need to get out into the real world more.

The idea for Daylight Savings Time is an old one. Advocates like to point out that Benjamin Franklin, on a diplomatic mission to France, awoke one morning bathed in sunlight. This was hours before scheduled appointments and Franklin looked at this sunlight not being utilized and mused it would make more sense if clocks were adjusted to account for earlier sunrises.

Of course, advocates never take into account a significant difference between the 18th Century and now. There were no bright artificial lights In Franklin’s day. Candles were expensive and gave out only a little light. The same could be said for oil lamps. Even the oil lamps of the 19th and early 20th Centuries gave out a dim light – enough not to stumble in the dark, but a real pain to try to read, much less perform a task like sewing. Light from the fireplace flickered. While you could work by these sources of light, it wasn’t anywhere as efficient as working in the day.

Now, thanks to electric lights, we have much better sources of illumination, and this has changed our lives in countless ways, most significantly in the use of artificial lighting around the clock. This has removed dependence on sunlight for illumination, at least for inside work, and with it the entire argument for Daylight Savings Time. For when we get up in the morning we turn on the lights, and do not turn them off until we leave for work or lay down to sleep.

You can see this pattern, along with other uses of electricity, in load curves. Load curves measure exactly how much electricity is being each hour. In the winter, more electricity is used in the morning, mostly for heat, while in the summer it’s almost reversed, thanks to air conditioning. And the only effect I’ve ever seen from Daylight Savings Time is shifting the load curve forward and backward one hour. Electricity usage remains the same.

Of course, while you can always tell a politician, you can’t tell them much, and some buy into the claim that it “saves” energy. And since politicians confuse conning people to vote for them with actually knowing something, during the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973, they got this dim idea to keep Daylight Savings Time through the winter. So everyone in the Lower 48 went to school in the dark (In Alaska this isn’t unusual, but in lower latitudes it’s a novel experience), which had parents up in arms, and it finally sunk in with the politicians that maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea and they pulled the plug on that fiasco. And the end result is we used more energy because of heating. We might not depend so much on sunlight indoors, but the outside temperature will certainly impact how much energy you use. Since school and work had to contend with an extra hour of darkness in the morning, this translated into an extra hour of colder temperatures. That meant an extra hour of heating. Guess what that meant for heating oil usage. Real smooth move, guys.

Although this exercise in stupidity meant we twiddled our thumbs an extra hour on Saturdays before it was light enough to do farm chores, I never realized this affected everyone who worked outside. While we can – and have – built power lines in the dark, it’s not as efficient as when you have daylight to see by. For inside jobs it was an expensive inconvenience; for outside jobs it had negative economic impact.

When you make your living farming and try to use available daylight anyway, you’re not impressed much by Daylight Savings Time. I remember asking my father why we had it and how it “saved” daylight, and he gave a wry grin and said it was for congressmen to play golf after work. I’m not sure his opinion wasn’t far from the mark. While Daylight Savings Time killed the drive-in movie business, it meant increased sales for others, and not just golf course owners. We used to change time on the last Sunday in October. Candy companies lobbied to extend it beyond Halloween because they believed an extra hour of daylight meant an extra hour of trick or treating, and that would translate into greater sales. So when our politicians tinkered with Daylight Savings Time again, they got their wish.

Even though that didn’t lead to the same fiasco as in the 1970s, it ended up costing more money, too. That’s because our society now has devices programmed to automatically sift from Standard to Daylight Savings Time. For VCRs that was a minor inconvenience. For what we call Time of Use and Load Profile electric meters, which records usage based on when electricity is used, that was a real problem. So it was that I had to rewrite meter configurations and go around changing the program in every Time of Use and Load Profile meter we had. And we weren’t the only industry to contend with such.

It should be noted that those who work inside tend to have a different opinion. My wife, who came from an area dominated by textile mills, loves the extra hour in the afternoons to do other things, and dreads the return of Standard Time. That, though, is a legitimate reason, and I think it’s why we really have Daylight Savings Time in the first place.

Just it doesn’t save energy. It never has. And when you think about all the fuel consumed as people take advantage of more daylight after work, we end up using more fuel than we would have in the first place.

None of this grousing helps me set every timepiece in the house, and there’s quite a few these days. I’ve always liked to set them to the second. I have a couple of radio controlled clocks, sometimes sold as “atomic” clocks because here in the US they get their time from the National Institute of Standards and Technology atomic clock, which sets the time for the entire nation. These I don’t have to set. Nor do I have to set the cell phones, which gets their time from the cell networks, nor phones with Caller ID, which gets it from the phone company, or my home computers, which are set to get their time from the NIST, too, or one clock that automatically changes from Daylight Savings time to Standard. The rest I do, and there’s a good many of them.

These days I set watches by a radio controlled clock, then use one of those to set the other clocks. Before that, I tuned my shortwave radio to WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado, which broadcasts time signals, and used that to set the time. Before that, I’d set one clock by the time tone we used to hear at the start of radio news broadcasts. I’ve been told of a fellow that supposedly listened for that time tone on his car radio, then ran inside to set his clocks. I really hope that wasn’t true.

If it was, he should have been a politician. Or worked for the DOE.