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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ross Rambles:Darkness is coming

Monday, October 10, 2005

Our world is becoming a darker place and will continue to do so for some time to come.

By "our world", I mean the northern hemisphere and by "some time to come", I mean until late December. The nights are growing longer and the amount of daylight is growing shorter.

This has something to do with the fact that the earth is tilted, a problem that cannot be corrected.

The psychological impact of this darkening will hit hardest on the last Sunday of the month when we go off of daylight savings time. Then the evening, which until recently has been a time of inviting brightness, will become a time blackness.

The farther north you go, the more the darkness replaces the light, with the northern polar region already entering into a night that will last until March.

The psychological impact of the abrupt change is the price we pay for the long hours of sunlight in the summer during DST.

Some people feel that DST should be kept all year long so we could get a bit more daylight after the standard work day is over. I say standard, because there are more people working irregular shifts, sometime rotating shifts, than other people realize.

The problem is, you really can't cheat the darkness of winter. Keeping DST year round means getting up well before sunrise during the coldest months of the year. DST was kept year round some years back and is regularly reconsidered as an energy conserving measure (more on that later). There was an increase in school kids being hit while walking to school in the dark, the primary reason the practice was abandoned.

I suspect that if year-round DST went on for an extended period of time, schools would adopt a later starting time and businesses would eventually follow suit.

If people don't want the change in times, it makes more sense to eliminate DST than to keep it year round. Stores, factories, other businesses and schools are free to decide operating hours in accordance with the best use of sunlight hours, keeping in mind the need for some uniformity.

Most workers and students in this area do not follow the "9 to 5" stereotype anyway. The 9 to 5 hours may be typical in urban areas where long commutes are common. Local businesses typically start at 8 or 8:30 a.m. Factories that operate more than one shift, typically start the standard day shift anywhere from 6 to 8 a.m.

When numbers were first assigned to time, the numbers were calibrated so that noon was when the sun was at its highest point in the sky. This was the case until, at the urging of railroads, time zones were established in the late 19th century. Then the sun was at its zenith from about 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., depending on the location within the time zone. The qualification "about" is needed because time zones follow state or county borders, so they do not have precisely uniform widths.

If DST was made year round, the sun would be at its zenith from about 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., a change I believe is pointless.

Benjamin Franklin was the first to come up with the idea of DST but it was not actually used until about a century and a half later. It seems strange that the idea was proposed when most people lived miles away from any clock and the sun itself was time.

Rural people, the vast majority back then, adjusted their work days naturally to make best use of sunlight. Farmers continue to do this, although the modern farmer, particularly dairy farmers, have schedules to maintain.

For those who have specific work hours every day, getting out of bed the same time every morning can result in staying in bed well after the sun comes up in spring and summer. Getting up earlier during this time makes more efficient use of sunlight.

Back when DST was first introduced during WW II, providing light was the primary use for home electricity, so the percentage of energy saved from DST was more significant than it is now that lighting requires a small fraction of the electricity. Later sunsets also mean less driving with lights on, improving fuel efficiency.

I don't quite understand how there would be an energy savings from keeping DST year round, taking an hour of darkness off of the latter part of people's active day and tacking it onto the start of people's active day.

Even those who support year round DST have a hard time justifying an assumption that it would save energy based on past experience. It is hard to calculate the change in energy consumption resulting from one variable when there are other variables present.

Those who insist that it would save energy seem to base this on an almost superstitious assumption rather than either a statistical analysis or a logical explanation.