The seasonal business of changing the time marks its one hundredth anniversary this Spring when many countries around the world will put their clocks forward one hour as part of ‘Daylight Saving Time’.
The measure was first instituted in Europe in 1916, which was then in the throws of a cataclysmic war which spread around the world. The centenary milestone date will be 27 March in Britain, one of the very first country’s to adopt the measure, in just over 2 weeks’ time. The moment has become popularly associated with the end of winter and Spring’s arrival.
Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire which were at war with Britain at the time, also started to put their clocks forward in 1916. It was thought extending daylight at the end of the day would help cut coal consumption – a vital consideration during war-time shortages. The British Parliament duly passed the British Summer Time Act of 1916 with a huge campaign to explain it to the people.
The notion in fact had a much older pedigree. It was first proposed in the 18th Century by American scientist, politician, and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, but was not introduced to England as a serious policy until 1907 by William Willet. Since the early 20th century daylight saving measures have been rolled out across the globe.
Most countries in Europe, North America, and some in the Middle East observe daylight saving time. In the United States, Hawaii and Arizona do not participate. There seems to be a geographical split, as most countries in the southern hemisphere do not apply daylight saving.
Latin American countries on the whole do not observe it – with the exception, bizarrely, of only the southern areas of Brazil. Australia also only applies these changes in its southern half.
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, many countries implemented daylight savings. However, the efficacy of adjusting daylight hours in reducing energy resource consumption is hotly disputed.
A 2008 study in Indiana, USA, concluded that pushing the clock back actually increased energy consumption, due to greater use of cooling appliances such as air conditioners. The total annual cost to households of daylight saving was estimated to be $9 million.
Critics of daylight saving also say that it endangers people, by increasing the hours of darkness when it is rolled back, contributing to higher crime rates. Agricultural workers also argue that DST is harmful, reducing the value of labour, and disrupts the milking of cows.
The arguments in favour revolve around tourism and business. A study in 1999 found that DST increased European Union leisure sector revenue by 3%. Medical studies also argue that it leads to a boost in vitamin D consumption due to greater sunlight, though this may also have the adverse effect of increasing the risk of cancer.
Despite the arguments for and against, Daylight Saving Time continues to gain traction around the world. Mongolia will join in for the first time this year, having announced its intention to do so in 2015.