Saturday, November 1, 2008

Franklin, Farmers and the Back Nine: The Lore of DST.

Tomorrow in most states in the U.S. and in many countries around the world, we set our clocks back an hour. Daylight Savings Time is over, the dark commute home is upon us.

DST is said to help farmers (it doesn't), boost the economy (it does help retailers a bit), and promote better health (no evidence, although it does seem to make us feel good).

It is said to have been the idea of Benjamin "Early to Bed, Early to Rise" Franklin (nope). It was William Willett, the English builder and outdoorsman, who first proposed DST in 1905. He noticed many Londoners were oversleeping in the summer. But more importantly (he thought), as an avid golfer, he was frustrated when the sun would set before he could finish 18 holes. Now that's motivation. But few others got behind such a change.

It was WWI that finally got many countries—and the U.S.—to approve daylight savings time. Why? It was thought to reduce the demand for coal, during times of shortages. And it did. It was a sustainability initiative: find a wide-reaching way to reduce the need for scarce resources without harming the ability of society and the economy to prosper.

It took heavy marketing to get and keep it passed. Convincing farmers it would help them, getting corporations to lobby for it (Clorox and 7-Eleven ran major efforts to re-confirm DST in the 80's). And while it no longer provides much benefit, as energy consumption patters have changed, it has become the new normal.

So let's use the extra hour this year to think harder. Or play golf. Maybe another Willett is out there on the back nine.

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