The hubris of “daylight saving”


Once again the calendar has rolled around to the most magical, the most anticipated, the most glorious day of the year. No, not Cinco de Mayo… no, not Christmas…. no, not even the Super Bowl. For many Americans this day outshines them all: The return of Daylight Saving Time.

And yes, I said daylight saving, NOT daylight savingS. It’s a common mistake that most of us make. It was never daylight savings. It’s not savings. It’s not a cosmic bank account. Although I can understand the linguistic error, because it is actually an excellent and obvious analogy: we bank an hour of daylight in the fall, only to withdraw it again in the spring. But if that’s the case, then we’ve got our terms exactly backwards. We deposited the daylight back in November and have been saving it all through the dark winter and now we’re withdrawing that hour in the spring to spend through the summer. It’s not daylight SAVING time, it’s daylight SPENDING time.

You know, they moved Daylight Saving back to the second Sunday in March just a few years ago. Before that they had it on the first Sunday in April. And by “they” of course I mean … I don’t know who I mean. It would be a sinch to look it up and tell you, but I’ll leave that to NPR. I’m sure they’ll do their annual in-depth piece. I don’t want to steal their thunder.

I think moving the date back was a really bad idea. Early March is easily the worst time of the entire year. You’re giving me another hour in the day? Now!? Great, I’ve got another hour to be cold. I’ve got another hour to look at the gray skies, the barren trees, the soot-stained snow and slush under my feet. More light? Now? No thanks, I like it dark.

And of course you can’t add an hour to the end of the day without taking it from the beginning of the day. Now, this is not an issue for me, personally, but I understand most people have to get up in the morning and go to work. Of all the unnatural things we humans do (and we do a lot of unnatural things), waking up to an alarm while the sun is well below the horizon is among the most unnatural. And then we double down once every year and set the time even earlier – and darker.

“Set the time.” Did you hear how easily that phrase rolled off my tongue… And how easily you received it – without a thought? “Set the time”? The phrase, the notion, is an absurdity if you think about it. Imagine trying to explain this to the architects of Stonehenge.

“Um, yeah, you guys – Somewhere between your sacred observances of Imbolc and Beltane you gotta shift the stones one hour over.  And then next Samhuinn, you can put ‘em all back.”

Hell, the Aztecs built whole massive cities with buildings the size of football fields – all of it with exact precision, lined up with the sun and the moon, taking into account the changing angles throughout the seasons.

“Yeah, if you could go ahead and move that series of pillars and rejigger the King’s main portal and, well, basically put the entire city up on rollers and shift it fifteen degrees for about eight months, that’d be great.”  

Oh, and how about the ancient mounds that still exist right here in my own Wisconsin, also constructed with precise alignment to the sun.  You want I should set them to the right time?  No problem. Can’t be more than about 50 million cubic feet of earth… I’ll get right on it.

And really, that’s the thing with daylight saving – the sheer hubris of it. The audacity we humans display on this climate changing planet is uncharted.  We don’t align ourselves with nature. We do the exact opposite. We think we can force it to align with us. Daylight Saving Time is a small and petty thing to complain about. But I cannot think of a purer symbol of our arrogance.


Charles Bursell MINI Profile Pic

Charles Bursell has been heard nationally on SiriusXM, National Public Radio, and The Pacifica Radio Network. He currently hosts the weekly podcast The Log.

Contact: charlesbursell@gmail.comFollow on Facebook and Twitter @charlesbursell.

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