Daylight Savings Time: What It Is, Why We Still Have It

This past Sunday, November 7, we all turned our clocks back an hour once again. Unless you’re from Arizona or Hawai’i, or a U.S. Colony (sorry, Territory), it’s a regularly familiar occurrence. Here come the usual platitudes and predictable remarks: “Hey there pal, how’d you like that extra hour of sleep, huh?” Or, “boy does it get dark early now,” et cetera, et cetera. It is the worst kind of small talk. These things just must be spoken aloud every year, it seems. But do we have to perform this ritual at all? Why do we do it? Why is it still around? And hey, weren’t we supposed to get rid of it years ago or something? 

Fear not friends, I have these answers. The practice of daylight savings existed as an idea for over 100 years. Benjamin Franklin first proposed the concept when he was living in France. The overall economic argument for much of the 19th century (and the arguments of its proponents today) was that turning clocks forward in the spring and allowing for more evening sunlight created more time for citizens to go out and support the economy. Of course, this also meant that clocks had to be turned back in the fall, making this argument irrelevant in the winter.

But it was World War I that finally prompted many Western nations to actually adopt this idea into law. The Germans first implemented it in 1916 as a fuel-saving effort, and in 1918, the U.S. Congress passed the Standard Time Act, which created the country’s time zones, forcing most Americans to lose an hour of sleep for the very first time, though on a state-by-state basis. 

In 1966, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act, which mandated daylight savings for all states whose legislatures did not vote to opt out (Arizona and Hawai’i). Ever since, it has been an equally bemoaned and defended tradition in the political realm. 

Many states have voted in recent years to discontinue the practice, including Oregon in 2019. So why did we still have to turn our clocks back this weekend? Well for one, all three states in the Pacific Time Zone would have to agree to do this, otherwise, for half the year, one or two of these three states (probably California), would be an hour ahead or behind. Washington also passed a similar law to Oregon’s in 2019. In 2018, California voters approved a referendum getting rid of it as well, but the ratification and actual implementation of the law stalled in the state legislature. Because of course it did. 

There is another path, which is Congress. Abolishing daylight savings is actually a bipartisan issue, with Republican Senator Marco Rubio (“And let’s dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing – he knows exactly what he’s doing!”) having introduced the “Sunshine Protection Act” alongside Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and a diverse array of co-sponsors. But also, as predictably as California’s flailing incompetence, the bill hasn’t budged. 

If the annual reports of increased car crash fatalities and depression-inducing sleep disruptions aren’t enough to finally end this ridiculous practice, I guess we are all still beholden to the measly 28% of Americans who still want to continue with this nonsense. Or maybe lil’ Marco will accomplish something for once.

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