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Why is daylight saving time still a thing?

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(WGHP) — People across the Piedmont Triad are preparing to fall back this Sunday and enjoy an extra hour of sleep.

Every year, we spring forward to daylight saving time (DST) in March and fall back to standard time (ST) in November. We all know that, but why does the time have to change in the first place?

It’s a question most people think has an easy answer. However, the more you look into it and ask around, the more myths and misconceptions pop up.

Origin of Daylight Saving Time

The Standard Time Act was passed by Congress on March 15, 1918, which created DST, and it went into effect on March 31, 1918, according to the Library of Congress.

The US was following Europe’s example to extend the workday and save energy for war industries during World War I, which didn’t end until Nov. 18, 1918.

DST was replaced when WWI ended but reinstated during World War II. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson established DST as a policy with the Uniform Time Act.

A man having trouble sleeping looks at the time in his bedroom (Getty Images).
A man having trouble sleeping looks at the time in his bedroom (Getty Images).

Wait, the farmers didn’t like DST?

One pervading myth around DST is that the time change was made to benefit farmers who needed more daylight.

In fact, the opposite is true, and farmers are the main reason the US never had peacetime DST time until the Uniform Time Act was signed in 1966, according to National Geographic.

Farmers “had a powerful lobby and were against it,” said Michael Downing, a Tufts University professor and author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”

Losing an hour of light in the morning meant farmers had to rush to get their crops to market.

Downing suggests farmers ended up becoming the mythical source of DST because of how vocally opposed to the time change they were.

“They became associated into the popular image of daylight-saving, and it got inverted on them. It was just bad luck,” he said.

Comparison of an incandescent light bulb and a LED lamp (Getty Images)
Comparison of an incandescent light bulb and a LED lamp (Getty Images)

Does DST actually conserve energy?

So if DST was implemented to conserve energy, does it actually work?

In 2005, Congress, acting on the myth that DST always works to save energy, passed the Energy Policy Act and extended DST by a month to ostensibly save four weeks’ worth of energy.

“An annual rite of spring: daylight saving time is also a matter of energy conservation. By having a little more natural daylight at our disposal, we can help keep daily energy costs down for families and businesses,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who co-sponsored the legislation with then-Rep. Markey, said in a statement on the bill released in 2013.

The California Energy Commission studied the extension and found that 0.18% of energy was saved at best. An Indiana study found that energy use increased slightly following the state’s adoption of DST (only some counties adhered to it for years), costing people in Indiana around $9 million.

Researchers say increased air-conditioning use in hot evenings and heating use in cool afternoons was partially responsible for the price increase.

“I’ve never had a paper with such a clear and unambiguous finding as this,” said University of California-Santa Barbara economics professor Matthew Kotchen, who presented the paper at a National Bureau of Economic Research conference.

DST was extended in the US in 1974 and 1975 due to the oil crisis.

The U.S. Department of Transportation analyzed the time shift and concluded in a 1975 report that electricity demand fell by 1% in March and April. A follow-up report in 1976 to Congress by the National Bureau of Standards found no significant energy savings.

Fall back (Getty Images)
Fall back (Getty Images)

The first switch to DST in the US was met with bands and a chorus in New York City to celebrate America’s first 23-hour day–a pretty drastic difference in public opinion of the time change now since many people would be happy to get rid of it altogether.

If your voice is included in the chorus of people who don’t see why we have to keep changing the time twice a year, you’re not alone. The NC General Assembly and members of Congress have similar thoughts.

Permanent Daylight Saving Time in North Carolina?

This year, North Carolina State Rep. Jon Hardister introduced a bill in the General Assembly to put NC on DST permanently.

And he’s not alone in trying to make that a reality for NC. Over the last four years, 19 states have passed legislation or resolutions supporting year-round DST, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“The last three years have seen a number of states really taking a look at why don’t we just stay on DST on a permanent basis. Florida’s taking a look at it. Other states are taking a look at it. No surprise North Carolina is also taking a look at it,” Wake Forest University political scientist John Dinan said.

Permanent Daylight Saving Time nationwide?

A bipartisan effort called the “Sunshine Protection Act of 2021” was proposed in March this year to make DST permanent and do away with falling back every November.

The legislation was introduced by the following senators.

  • Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
  • James Lankford (R-Okla.)
  • Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.)
  • Rick Scott (R-Fla.)
  • Ed Markey (D-Mass.)

The bill was ultimately referred to the subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce and hasn’t passed in the House or Senate.

So for now, Americans who don’t live in Hawaii and Arizona, where the time changes aren’t observed, will still have to fall back this Sunday and spring forward on March 13 next year.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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