Sunday, March 10, 2013

Daylight Saving Time Began at 2 AM with Pros and Cons for PTown Residents

Spring forward... The Town Hall clock in Provincetown
chimed 12 at 11 PM last night, ready early for DST
Last spring I sat for 40 minutes on the rock wall that borders the grass in front of the Provincetown Florist on Bradford Street, waiting for the FLEX bus to scoop me up on its way out to Shankpainter Road. I was philosophical for the first 10 minutes I was waiting, thinking the driver must have been delayed loading bicycles or a wheel chair on the bus, or had gotten stuck behind a propane truck making a delivery on Route 6A in North Truro. The bus often gets into Provincetown 10 or 12 minutes behind schedule. After the 20 minute mark I was a bit miffed because I was getting cold sitting out in the breeze, becoming indignant after waiting half an hour, and quite agitated after 40 minutes. Most times I've waited that long for the bus it's turned out that the driver had actually rolled in early instead of slowing down a bit to stick to the schedule, leaving would-be passengers without a ride, waiting for a bus that had already gone by. So I was pretty irate by the time I realized the fact that the nation's spring time change had taken place a day-and-a-half earlier and had somehow completely escaped me.
Originally, daylight saving time was proposed as a way to save energy by letting folks turn on lights in their homes an hour later in the evening. Businesses could wait an extra hour to turn on exterior lighting as well. First used in WWI, then again in WWII, daylight saving time from spring to autumn each year was permanently established in the United States with the Uniform Time Act of 1966. I was 12 years old that summer and remember there still being enough light to play hide-and-seek with the neighborhood kids until after 9 PM, which created difficulty for a lot of parents of small children who balked at suddenly having to go to bed while it was still light out.
There were people genuinely upset about the issue, too, claiming that more sunlight
would be bad for nature, that crops in the midwest might suffer, and that their lawns would surely require extra watering if subjected to an extra hour of sunlight every day. Wow! Sounds unbelievable now, but I remember these arguments making the news and even being heard from a few poor souls on my own block. It is astounding to me that some folks thought that through a piece of legislation, the U.S. Congress had the power to actually add an extra hour of sunlight in a 24 hour period.
The time change does save about half of one percent of U.S. electricity usage each day, or at least it did in 2008 when the U. S. Department of Energy found that Americans were using 1.3 billion fewer kilowatt-hours of electricity under daylight saving time. That's enough energy to power roughly 122,000 average U.S. homes for an entire year. That amount of energy savings has likely increased since Congress adjusted the time period for DST, beginning three weeks earlier and ending a week later now. The U.S. Department of Transportation also claims that daylight saving time prevents traffic accidents and lowers crime rates, stating that "people travel to and from school and work and complete errands during the daylight," and "more people are out conducting their affairs during the daylight rather than at night, when more crime occurs."
The extra hour of daylight in the evening may let daytrippers to Provincetown stay a little longer here, too, rather than rushing to get home and off the highway before dark, and folks may linger a bit longer in restaurants and taverns in the extra daylight. Besides, most of us feel our spirits lifting a bit when sunset no longer happens at 4:15 PM, as it does on our shortest winter days.
But shifting the clock by an hour forward and back each year can adversely affect many of us, causing stress to our systems, difficulty sleeping and other disruptions in our chronobiologic rhythms. A 2008 Swedish study appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, reporting that the rate of heart attacks increases noticeably for the period immediately following time changes. So be sure to treat yourself gently for a few days. Do something to reduce your stress level, like taking a few extra strolls around town listening to the song birds you'll hear if you slow down a bit and pay attention. Meditate a little, or learn how to if you've never taken it up. Or spend a little extra time relaxing with friends, which has been shown to reduce human stress levels. The time change is your perfect excuse, and you know you deserve it.

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