Citizens are fighting back against the tyranny of daylight savings

Too many different times.
Too many different times.
Image: Reuters/Caren Firouz
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Anyone who works with people in Europe probably had a chaotic week. Europeans set their clocks back an hour Sunday (Oct. 28), ending daylight saving; but no one else did, except Mexico, in an act of defiance against its northern neighbors, and a few countries in the middle east.

North Americans (except Mexicans) wasted many minutes on empty conference lines because they did not realize their European and Mexican colleagues where on a different time. And they are not the only one who wasted time and money. Airlines, a particularly time-sensitive industry, estimate juggling different time changes costs them $147 million each year. But now some relief may be in sight that will end this madness: The European Union may abolish daylight saving time changes in Europe once and for all.

The EU has seriously considered ending time changes after a survey released this summer showed more than 80% of Europeans wanted to stay on one time year round. Initially Europeans hoped this fall would be the last time they’d fall back. But that time frame proved too ambitious (airlines, for example, need at least 18 months to prepare). If the member states do vote to end daylight saving, it won’t happen until 2021 at the earliest. The member states also must vote between keeping winter or summer hours. Deciding which time to keep could further divide southern and northern Europeans, just as they finally stopped fighting about spending and debt.

Countries around the world started using our current, standardized time zones in 1884. But the harmony did not last long. In 1908, residents of Port Arthur, Ontario started turning their clocks forward one hour. Within a few years changing the clocks for summer caught on in other parts of Canada. Daylight saving really caught on in 1916 when the Germans turned their clocks forward on April 30, to preserve fuel used for artificial lighting during World War I. A few years later it became the standard practice in Europe and America too.

According to Time and Date, a Norwegian website dedicated to providing accurate information on, well, time and date, each year a few new countries ditch time changes. This year was the first without a time-change for Namibia and Tonga. Since the widespread adoption of daylight savings, 67 countries have since stopped turning back their clocks. The only hold outs are now mostly richer, developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere, whose businesses and systems are more heavily invested in the status quo. Their reluctance to stop changing time puts them further out of step with developing countries.

Europe may finally end time changing. And this may be enough for the US to stop too. There are already signs Americans are fed up with changing their clocks too. Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire are considering forming their own time zone. Florida voted to stay on summer time, their Senator Marco Rubio filed a bill for the whole country to follow suit.

There are few good reasons to change our clocks twice a year. Most of the purported benefits, good for farmers, less energy usage, fewer traffic accidents, are either untrue or unproven. But there is evidence time changes cause health and economic damage. The costs are larger when different countries change their time on different dates and no one knows what time it is. The concept of time and adhering to time zones is meant to facilitate economic transactions and increase coordination. Each country turning its clocks back on a different day undermines these objectives.

It is time to pick a time and stick with it.