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In Defense of Daylight Saving Time

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This weekend, two things will happen. First, we’ll set our clocks forward one hour as we head into eight months of Daylight Saving Time (DST). Second, your social media news feed will fill up once again with lamentations about the switchover. There will be articles and essays denouncing DST as antiquated and unnecessary, and perhaps even harmful. What I find awkward about these rants is that, well-intentioned as they may be, they often fail to say what they’re arguing for.

WHY DO WE USE DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Though Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the idea, the push for DST actually dates back only to the 1890s and first became law in Germany in 1916, in an effort to conserve coal during the First World War. In North America, DST was only widely adopted in the 1970s in response to the so-called energy crisis. Why the link to energy consumption? The theory is that people don’t switch on their lights until sunset, so if sunset can be pushed back, so to speak, we’ll use less energy. Another argument is that retailers benefit from pushing the clock back; people are more likely to go shopping when it’s light out. The extra summer sunlight also means more daylight hours for recreation, from golf to little league baseball to simply taking a stroll. 

But not so fast: The energy argument has always rested on inconclusive (and often contradictory) data, and anyway, energy-use patterns have changed over time. As the Washington Post recently noted: “More productive daylight hours might be meant to get you off the couch and recreating outside, but they’re just as likely to lead to increased air-conditioner use if you stay home and gas guzzling if you don’t.” (Indeed, a 2008 study suggested that energy use actually goes up slightly when DST is adopted.)

And then there’s DST’s alleged impact on human health: A 2011 University of Alabama study found that the switch to DST causes a 10 percent increase in the risk of heart attack. A 2007 German study found that the switch causes sleep disruption that the body never truly adjusts to, possibly increasing the susceptibility to illness. Last month, a study of nearly 15,000 people hospitalized in Finland found a small, temporary bump (8 percent) in the rate of stroke among those hospitalized in the first two days after a daylight saving time transition. There was no difference after two days.  

The cumulative case against DST was enough to get comedian John Oliver all worked up: In a 2015 viral video from Last Week Tonight, Oliver asked why DST is “still a thing.” (“What you lose in sleep, you gain in mortal danger,” the report noted dryly, referring to the purported health risks.)

What I find most striking about the opposition to DST is that it’s usually framed not as a preference for Standard Time, but as wanting to do away with the twice-a-year switch. (There’s a certain logic there, as the purported negative health effects are due to the switch, not to the actual time shown on our clocks.) That’s certainly the theme of the Oliver video, which makes no claim about wanting to keep Standard Time, or any other system, year-round.

But without DST, there really are only two options: Stay on Standard Time all year, or keep Daylight Time all year.

YEAR-ROUND STANDARD TIME VS. YEAR-ROUND DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME

But here’s the thing: If we stay on Standard Time year round, much of that extra summer daylight, divided equally between morning and evening, goes to waste. Do we really need four and a half hours of daylight before most of us start the work day, in June? Surely that light is more valuable to us in the evenings, when we’re finished work or school and (in theory, at least) can do as we please.

And so we’re tempted by the alternative argument: OK, Daylight Saving Time is good, but I hate the switch; let’s just stay on DST all year. But that, alas, leaves us with a lack of sunlight on winter mornings. We’d be driving to work in the dark, and our kids would be going to school in the dark. In the current system, sunrise in New York occurs at around 7:20 a.m. in late December (it’s about the same in San Francisco and Chicago; it’s 7:42 in Atlanta, which is further west within its time zone). Now imagine adding an hour to those times. Do we really want parts of the country to remain in darkness ’til 8:45 a.m. in mid-winter?

The diagram below sums up the problem: If you plot the amount of daylight that those of us living in mid-northern latitudes receive as a function of the time of the year, you get a big fat yellow bulge in the summer months, and a much thinner band of yellow for fall and winter.

SualehFatehi via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As the diagram shows, DST has the effect of pushing the thickest part of that bulge downward, so that we have nice, late summer sunsets, while keeping the time of sunrise relatively constant throughout the year (yes, the time of sunrise still varies—but not by as much as it would if we stuck with Standard Time year-round).

Let’s face it: We can do what we like with our clocks; it doesn’t affect the amount of daylight that reaches us each day. The only question is when we’d like that daylight to happen. For those who rant against DST—and I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of them—all I ask is this: It’s not enough to say that you hate making the switch. You have to say what system you actually want.

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Paris is Selling Its Love Locks, and Donating the Proceeds to Refugee Organizations
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Paris officials have turned an urban problem into a public service: They’re selling the city’s “love locks” as souvenirs and donating the proceeds to refugee groups. The Guardian first reported the news back in December, and now—beginning on Saturday, May 13—the locks will be auctioned off online.

For traveling couples, the padlocks they affixed to the iron grills of the French city’s bridges, initials scrawled on the surface, were a symbol of romance. But to Parisian officials, they were a civil danger. Fearing that the locks would weaken overpasses like the Pont des Arts, the city began dismantling the metal trinkets in 2015.

Left with 1 million padlocks (which totaled 65 metric tons of scrap metal), authorities needed a creative way to repurpose the waste. So they decided to sell 10 metric tons of locks to members of the public, marketing them as relics of the city’s bygone history.

“Members of the public can buy five or 10 locks, or even clusters of them, all at an affordable price,” Bruno Julliard, first deputy mayor of Paris, said in a statement quoted by The Guardian in 2016. “All of the proceeds will be given to those who work in support and in solidarity of the refugees in Paris.”

The locks will be sold in a variety of lots, some of them just as a single souvenir, others in groups. Smaller lots are expected to sell for anywhere from $100 to $200, while pieces of the padlocked railings could go for as much as $5000 to $9000 apiece. Proceeds will benefit the Salvation Army, Emmaus Solidarity, and Solipam.

99-Year-Old Woman Checks "Spending Time in Jail" Off Her Bucket List

When a senior looks back on his or her life to assess their triumphs and regrets, “not getting arrested” typically falls into the former category. But according to the BBC, a 99-year-old woman in the Netherlands wished she had spent time in the slammer. To help her achieve this unconventional bucket list dream, law officers let the woman, named Annie, hang out in a jail cell—with handcuffs on—at the police station in the eastern Dutch town of Nijmegen-Zuid.

Annie has her family to thank for the experience. "Her niece came to us with this request," a police officer told the BBC. "When she was reporting a crime, she told the police officer about Annie's 'bucket list.'"

"You get many unusual requests with this profession," he added. "We thought it would be nice to do something special for Annie."

Politie Nijmegen-Zuid/Facebook

As you can see in the photos above, Annie’s brush with the law was a blast. However, she isn’t the only senior who has wondered what life is like behind bars. Last year, a 102-year-old woman named Edie Simms from St. Louis, Missouri was faux-arrested per her own bucket list request. Police teamed up with a local senior center to make Simms’s dream come true. "She was so excited that she can ride in a police car and she said, 'Do you think you could put those handcuffs on me?'" Michael Howard, executive director of Five Star Senior Center, told KPLR. Talk about centenarians gone wild!

[h/t BBC]

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