Why putting the clocks back is bonkers

This weekend, the UK and Ireland will put the clocks back by one hour and revert to GMT for the next five months. We do this every year – and it’s completely bonkers.

By moving our clocks back to GMT we move the middle of our daylight hours to mid-day. This is, therefore, back to natural time. The sun is at its highest point in the sky at 12 noon. When we were an agrarian society, this made perfect sense. People got up earlier and, in the absence of artificial light, went to bed when it got dark. The middle of their day was therefore around 12 noon.

Nowadays this makes no sense at all. Most people work around a core 9am – 5pm day. Most of us work longer than this but the hours at each end are probably evenly distributed. 1pm is therefore closer to the middle of most people’s working day than 12 noon. When it comes to their waking day, 12 noon is probably only a third of the way through. Even an early riser who, say, got up at 5am and went to bed at 9pm, the middle of their day would still be 1pm. Shifting the middle of our daylight hours to 12 noon means that for almost everyone, there will be light in the morning when they don’t need it and darkness in the evening when they do.

Research by Cambridge University bears this out. The graph below shows the amount of human activity during a winter day. As we can see, just by moving the light area forward by an hour (which is what would happen if we left the clocks where they were) a lot more of that activity takes place in daylight.

The report notes that for much of the winter some 35% of the population is asleep at sunrise. The results of sleeping during daylight and consigning so much of our activity to the darkness can be seen in the rapid increase in accident statistics and energy consumption once the clocks go back.

It is true that, if we stuck with BST all winter, December mornings would be particularly grim. The sun would not rise in London until around 9am and in Inverness until 10am. But for much of the rest of the winter it we would trade the morning daylight we don’t need for evening daylight, when most of us are far more active. Even in Inverness, the December trade-off would be for a 4.30pm sunset instead of the 3.30pm one they get at the moment. Overall, throughout the country, a later sunrise and sunset would increase the amount of activity we do during the hours of daylight, thus reducing the number of accidents and lowering our energy consumption.

Greenwich Mean Time, with the mid-point of its daylight at 12 noon, suited the rhythms of our agrarian past. British Summer Time, with its mid-point at 1pm is far better suited to the working and leisure patterns of the modern world. Let’s leave the middle of the day at 1pm. It suits us far better. Please let this be the last year that we plunge ourselves pointlessly into the darkness.

Update: The government has just announced that it is considering moving UK time forward by one hour for three-year trial period. It needs the devolved governments to agree first though.

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9 Responses to Why putting the clocks back is bonkers

  1. CharlieMcMenanmin says:

    Careful now Rick. Everything you say may be true, but I recall the first piece of advice I was ever given by a wizened old campaigner when I first set out to go canvassing at an election (I think it must have been for Attlee, it was that long ago):

    ” Just find out if they’re going to vote for us…and if they start talking about switching daylight hours or water fluoridation mark the canvass card so no one ever bothers therm ago. We’ll rescue you in three hours, because you’ll be trapped on the doorstep.”

  2. CharlieMcMenanmin says:

    Damn.
    That should read:
    “Just find out if they’re going to vote for us…and if they start talking about switching daylight hours or water fluoridation mark the canvass card so no one ever bothers them again. We’ll rescue you in three hours, because you’ll be trapped on the doorstep.”

    *Hangs head in shame, and departs stage left…*

  3. Pingback: Why putting the clocks back is bonkers - Rick - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  4. CharlieMcMenanmin says:

    Nothing so rude Rick.

    I’m just gently suggesting that, sometimes, any one of us might find our perfectly logical and deeply held opinions on some matter or other may so floor any opponent to the degree that they not so much fail to come up with an adequate rely as sidle slowly out of the door….

    I have that effect on people when I talk about the obvious need for English regional government and I think you might have found your equivalent…

  5. Rick says:

    Perhaps it’s just as well I posted this on a Friday then, when fewer people seem to read this blog anyway.

    I can see the logic of your argument about regional government but I don’t think many others do. The referendums gave a pretty resounding thumbs down.

    • CharlieMcMenanmin says:

      Naw, it’s a good blog, full of well written, interesting stuff. I’m only teasing.

      Now, on the matter of regional government…. ( continues page 94-156)

  6. Strategist says:

    Charlie, would your regional governments have the power to decide what time zone they were in?

    >>”The government has just announced that it is considering moving UK time forward by one hour for three-year trial period. It needs the devolved governments to agree first though.”

    Or not! I reckon old Salmond would love to get Scotland into its own time zone, it would greatly assist in creating that sense of independence, like putting up bilingual roadsigns, or painting the phoneboxes Scottish blue. And before some crap about hampering financial markets, it might give Scotland a selling point (“we’re still trading one hour after London has closed”).

  7. Rick, if you’re getting teased for just one post, think how Dreaming Realist (actually, me) must feel after posting a dozen or so of them over quite a few years: http://www.dreamingrealist.co.uk/category/bst-british-summer-time-and-daylight-saving-the-clocks-go-back-forward/

    And I haven’t finished yet. Evidence-based policy will surely prevail! NB Even top-class Scottish cows can’t actually tell the time; the relevance of which observation can be seen in discussion as above.

    In the end, people will I believe, er, see the light….

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