The Daylight Saving debate

OCTOBER 28th 2010
On Sunday we put the clocks back by an hour to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) which defines mid-day as the time whem the sun appears to be as near to overhead at Greenwich as it can be at our fairly northern latitude. Once again the event is used to revive several arguments which are confused in themselves and confused between each of them, then further confused by the motives of those who take up positions in favour of any of them.

These arguments revolve variously about:
1. Minimizing the need for electric light an heat (formerly on economic grounds and now on environmental grounds as well)
2. Reducing the time of travel, especially by children in hours of darkness in winter, on the grounds of safety
3. Using the hours of daylight to the best social and commercial advantage.
4. Simplifying and reducing the changes in clock-settings, regional differences, time-tables and associated costs.

Let me start with one of the extreme positions, held by some Scots and English traditionalists.

GMT when the sun is overhead London should remain British Standard Time throughout the year. People can go to work and back, and to school and back, at the most appropriate time taking into account the saving of electricity, the safety of children and an other factor that is relevant to their particular occupation or trade. In any given region or latitude wothin the British Isles, a standard can be agreed if this is appropriate.

This argument is, we shall find, very near to the best solution in its second part. For the first part, however, it makes sense to take into account some other factors.

Central European Time, which covers the area from Germany to Spain and Italy to Norway, has a single time standard. Only Portugal on the western extreme has found it appropriate to differ by one hour so as to bring 'noon', our classical idea of mid-day, nearer to the time when the sun is overhead. However, there is no more real need for this than there is for the people of Berlin to have a separate time zone for East Germany, now no longer a separate state and which used central European Time even when it was.

To cut through the confusion, the choice boils down to these simple facts.

1. Synchronizing our summer-winter clock changes with those of CET reduces cost and complication of time-table changes
2. Switching from BST to CET would save UK power throughout the year and simplifies time-tables even further and enables office hours to be mostly synchronized and, where not, easily allowed for.
3. All considerations of safety and  cost savings that are best addressed by local or regional adjustments to the start and end of the working day should be addressed in that way, as suggested by the Scots and English traditionalists in their solution to the original GMT problem.

Note: There are some other Scots traditionalists who believe that the UK (and presumably in logic the whole of Europe east and west of Greenwich should adjust to a standard time adjusted to Scotland's needs to have the sun overhead at mid-day in winter and farmers and schools unable, for some reason, to start and finish work at an appropriate time. Amazingly, it is that rather than the other reasonable arguments raised by those on the longitudinal extremes, that have been listened to in the past. They should be ignored now once and for all. The Norwegians might be able to help the Scots if they can't manage.