While there’s a popular misconception that Benjamin Franklin “invented” daylight saving time, he did not. (The founding father with a sharp sense of humor did, however, propose something similar in a satirical essay making fun of Parisians for waking up too early.) In fact, British-born New Zealand entomologist George Hudson is given the credit (or the blame) for proposing modern-day daylight saving time (DST) in an 1895 paper.
After the Germans first implemented the scheme during World War I to conserve electricity, the rest of Europe, along with the United States and many other nations followed suit. Now, 100 years later, the European Union is taking the first steps toward getting rid of the time change beloved by some and detested by others, reports Shoshana Wodinsky at the Verge.
The Finns fall squarely in the hate column. DST is designed to maximize the number of daylight hours as the length of the day waxes and wanes throughout the year. That means in the spring clocks leap forward an hour to add extra sunshine to the evenings and fall back in the autumn to maximize early morning rays. In the northern parts of Finland, it hardly matters—the sun doesn’t set or rise for weeks on end. However, people dutifully set their clocks forward and backyard to stay in sync with the other 28 European nations that practice daylight saving. Last year, more than 70,000 Finnish people signed a petition calling for the abolition of daylight saving.
Per Deutsche Welle, that momentum helped push the European Parliament to adopt a resolution earlier this year calling for the European Commission to look at daylight saving and come up with proposals for revising it. Now, the Commission is running an online poll of European citizens until August 16 asking for them to weigh in on the idea.
DW reports that EU nations, which are spread across three time zones, adopted a resolution to harmonize their clocks and synchronize daylight-saving time in the 1980s. If the Commission recommends getting rid of that directive, it would not mean the end of the practice across the continent. Instead, it might make things even more confusing since each nation would be allowed to choose whether to participate in daylight saving and could choose its own dates for implementing the switch.
According to History.com, the case for maintaining DST is pretty weak, and arguments against it are growing stronger. Only about 25 percent of nations in the world set their clocks backward and forward. That’s because only nations in more northern latitudes, where day length fluctuates dramatically throughout the year, benefit. A.J. Dellinger at Gizmodo reports that the original reason for the scheme—to save electricity—has not worked out. According to some studies, daylight saving leads to more energy use because people use air conditioners later into the evening and use more gas driving around on bright summer nights. There’s also some evidence that switching sleeping schedules twice a year screws up our circadian rhythms leading to adverse health effects. In fact, one study found that reported heart attacks increase 25 percent on the Monday after we “spring forward” in the U.S., compared to other Mondays during the year.
Those arguing to keep DST point to stats showing that it reduces crime during the summer and gives people more time to exercise outdoors during the evening. They also argue that those wanting to remain on summer hours year-round would mean people would have to drive to work and children would go to school in complete darkness all winter long in certain places.
Europe isn’t the only place wrestling with DST. Infamously, the Soviet version of daylight saving never quite got things figured out (the 61-year-old error in time keeping was finally acknowledged in 1991). Post-Soviet-era Russia later experimented with permanent "summer time" in 2011, and then moved to permanent Standard Time or "winter time" in 2014.
This November, George Skelton at The Los Angeles Times reports that the Golden State will vote on a ballot measure whether or not to authorize the legislature to end DST. In the United States, each state currently decides whether to use DST, though the start and end dates are set by federal law. Currently, Hawaii does not use DST because its close enough to the equator that its day lengths don’t change too drastically; Arizona also has chosen not to adopt summer hours and opted for an earlier sunset during the hottest time of the year.