On Sunday morning, Americans will “spring forward.” With the exception of Hawaii and some parts of Arizona, people will set their clocks ahead to get more light at night.
Not everybody’s on board. Sure, Australia and most of Europe join us but most African and Asian nations skip daylight saving time. India and China don’t enforce it, for example.
But it doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. Since the concept of daylight saving time was first embraced by Germany during World War I, many parts of the world have flirted with DST, mostly in the hope it could cut down on electricity usage.
“Somehow, people [around the world] bought into the notion that if we squeeze our clocks enough, we could save oil,” says Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time. “Unlike any other energy policy, it costs the consumers nothing, so legislators love it.”
It’s hard to prove it. In a given year it could look like DST is saving people money, he says. “But really, it could be due to something like a mild spring.”
Sometimes, DST is practiced in places where it doesn’t make sense, like countries near the equator, says Downing. “The amount of sunlight is pretty steady,” he says. “But they wanted to line up with American time zones and keep themselves in sync.”
Here’s a few examples of how different places have played around with daylight saving time:
Struggling with frequent blackouts, in 2009 the country observed DST on a trial basis to see if it would help save energy. In just six months it was canceled. The government said DST did help reduce peak electricity demand, but not everyone was a fan. People were confused by the switch, and sleepy schoolchildren were mad about having to wake up in the dark. Bangladesh hasn’t tried it again since then.
The Brits introduced daylight saving time during World War II, and since then different leaders have loved it or left it. In 2014, DST was reintroduced to help curb energy consumption — but was discontinued the next year. Citizens were unhappy about changing the clocks four times during the year — Egypt paused DST during Ramadan to end the fast an hour earlier. And studies showed no effect on energy consumption.
Namibia is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to use daylight saving time, which they’ve had since 1994. But it could soon go away. Citizens complain that when the clocks are set back, it gets dark too early when people come home from work. So last year, the government launched public consultations to look into nixing it for good.
In 2014, a group of researchers at the municipal energy office in Durban, South Africa, put together a report to test the idea of DST. In addition to potentially reducing the town’s annual electricity consumption between .2 and .5 percent, the researchers hoped to enhance the “lifestyle benefits for Durban residents and tourism” — the latest sunset in Durban is 7 p.m. But South Africa still has not joined the DST bandwagon.
One More Weird Thing…
Some places play with time for their own reasons. A resort in Madagascar called Anjajavy wanted the sun to rise later and set earlier, so they created their own time zone — an hour ahead of the rest of Madagascar — for a later sunset hour. Visitors have to change their watches to Anjajavy time. Says the hotel’s website: “A time peculiar to Anjajavy the lodge was created so that we are better adjusted to the natural cycles of the reserve and the village. Therefore, at 5 pm lemurs naturally join us in the Oasis garden to take advantage the foliage. It is fresh hour, right in time for the “5 O’clock tea.”
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