Flipping the Line: DST is good, actually
Do you really want the sun coming up after 9:30 in the morning, Jen?
The Line welcomes angry rebuttals and responses to our work. The best will be featured in our ongoing series, Flipping the Line. Today, James McLeod on why Jen Gerson should be careful what she wishes for.
By: James McLeod
I sincerely enjoyed Jen Gerson channeling the ghost of Stuart McLean this week. But as Jen balled her fists, gazed to the heavens and cursed the “Goddamn DST,” I was disappointed.
I can understand Jen’s frustration after a stressful and hectic morning, but daylight saving time doesn’t deserve the blame.
In recent years it has become fashionable to denigrate the twice-yearly tradition of changing the clocks.
We’re told that the time change kills 28 people each year due to traffic accidents in the United States. That might sound shocking, until you realize that 31,720 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, so daylight saving time is a factor in just 0.08 per cent of motor vehicle accidents.
Teslas are on track to kill more people than that this year.
You’ll hear a lot of people grumble that daylight saving time doesn’t actually do anything to change the rotation of the earth, or the tilt of the axis, so it doesn’t actually make the day any longer. This is true!
But “the evening” is not a matter of orbital mechanics; it’s a social construct that begins when you finish work for the day and ends when the sun goes down. And “the evening” is the crux of the issue.
By switching our clocks as the days start to get longer, we make the sun rise an hour later so that we can enjoy an extra hour of sunlight in the evening.
The fact is that daylight saving time is a classic acute cost/diffuse benefit problem. People fixate on one annoying weekend where you need to switch the clocks, and your sleep schedule gets thrown off. It sucks.
But in June or July when Jen is enjoying golden, sun-dappled evenings outside with her family that stretches well past 9 p.m., I doubt she’ll take the time to say “Thank you, daylight saving time.”
But she should.
Without daylight saving time, on July 1 in Calgary the sun would rise at 4:25 a.m. It’s much better to shift things by an hour and let it come up at 5:25 a.m., so everyone can enjoy sunny evenings that last one hour longer.
It’s at this moment in the conversation when, inevitably, somebody jumps out and says “Aha! But that’s why we should go on daylight saving time year-round! Set the clocks forward and never set them back again!”
I respectfully disagree. For one thing, you’re dooming us to some very, very dark winter mornings. In Calgary on January 3, the sun wouldn’t come up until 9:39 a.m. Maybe driving to work in the dark every day is a worthwhile trade-off to avoid the hassle of clock switching, but I’d rather not.
The United States tried permanent daylight saving time in the 1970s. People hated it. They scrapped it after one year.
But you don’t have to take my opinion on the matter! You don’t even have to trust the Americans! Why don’t we consult the people of Alberta?
Just a couple years ago the Alberta electorate voted in a referendum to consider whether to go on permanent daylight saving time, and the voters rejected that idea.
Vox populi, vox dei.
To me, the Alberta referendum is particularly instructive. The results were very close. It’s fair to say that a plurality of Alberta voters would prefer permanent daylight saving time. And a majority of people would prefer to get rid of the hassle of clock-switching.
But if you get rid of clock switching, you need to either adopt standard time or daylight saving time all-year-round. And enough Alberta voters were so opposed to going all-in on permanent daylight saving time that they narrowly rejected the proposition.
There is no perfect solution. Every option comes with some downsides.
Switching our clocks twice a year is the compromise option. The least-bad option.
In fact, you might even say that daylight saving time is good, actually.
James McLeod is a Toronto-based writer and communications professional. From 2018 to 2020 he covered Canadian tech for the Financial Post.
The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: email@example.com