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An Hour Here, An Hour There

An Hour Here, An Hour ThereTufts lecturer Michael Downing takes a realistic look at the impact of the United States’ decision to extend Daylight Saving Time in 2007.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [08.31.05] Twice a year, like clockwork, most Americans make “the switch.” One day, in the fall, we tack an hour on, while some Sunday in the spring, we trade 60 minutes of our precious time for a summer full of late-day sun.

But none of it makes much sense if you ask Tufts English lecturer Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.

“One hundred years ago when they first proposed this, they said it was about saving energy,” Downing said in an interview with ABC News. “This has never been realized no matter how many times they say it. Instead it’s a tremendous way to get Americans to spend more money.”

According to Downing, extending Daylight Saving Time – which the U.S. will do by four weeks in 2007 – will provide the biggest benefit to retailers, who know from experience that folks are more inclined to shop after work if it’s light out when they hit the streets.

Downing pointed out in a New York Times op-ed that when the government made a similar move in 1986 and stretched daylight saving time by a month, the golf industry predicted to Congress that fees and retail sales would grow by about $400 million annually and the barbecue industry saw a $150 million jump.

But the extension of Daylight Saving Time in 2007 – which was set in stone in August when President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act – hasn’t been pitched to the American people as an effort to boost retail sales, according to Downing.

“As a spending plan, there’s probably not much wrong with it,” Downing said on CNN’s In The Money. “But as an attempt to try to save energy, which is the rumor under which we received it again, it is a total bust.”

Downing noted in an op-ed in The Boston Globe that in November 2007, the sun won’t rise in most parts of the U.S. until between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m., which, he believes, puts a kink in the government’s plan.

“We will have to turn on lights and squander our savings before it accrues,” Downing wrote in The Boston Globe. “Congress promises we will save 100,000 barrels of oil every day. Congress can’t increase the amount of daylight we have.”

According to Downing, while longer days won’t result in less electricity use, they won’t save gasoline, either.

Daylight will entice more Americans to head out and about in their cars during the early evening hours and gas guzzling will be on the rise, Downing wrote in the Times op-ed.

“This will only put more cars on the road for more hours of the day,” he explained in the op-ed. “The petroleum industry recognized daylight saving’s potential to increase gasoline consumption as early as 1920.”

But the problems with squeezing as much sunlight as we can out of spring, summer and fall don’t end there, according to Downing.

“The new four-week daylight saving extension won’t save fuel or lives, but it will put our clocks seriously out of sync with Europe’s, costing airlines $150 million a year,” he wrote in the Times. “It will foul up clocks in computers, confuse trade with our continental neighbors and make it impossible for many Jews to recite sunrise prayers at home.”

So, while a adding little extra evening light to March and November may seem like a good idea on the surface, Downing stands firm that the logic for doing so is out-of-whack.

“I am a fan of long summer evenings and of social policy that promotes conservation. But I can’t promise I won’t turn on a light until 8:30 in the morning,” Downing wrote in the Times. “Come November, wouldn’t it make more sense for Congress to leave the clocks alone, ask us to turn down the thermostats at night and maybe spring for a pair of flannel pajamas?”












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