Who turned the lights out?

At 5:30 last night, my phone rang. “I hate the time change,” my girlfriend said. “Look outside, it’s dark.”

I walked over to the window and checked. “Yep, you’re right.”

“Oh sure, be smug, Ms. I live in a resort-like climate. (now I’ve never considered Tulsa a resort. But she’s right. Not to brag, but it was almost seventy degrees yesterday)

“Don’t you feel exhausted?”

“Yeah, most days, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the time change.”

She ignored me. “Why do we bother. Arizona doesn’t switch their clocks and they seem to be doing just fine.”

I considered telling her that the Navajo Reservations in Arizona still observed the ritual. But figured now wasn’t the time.

I started to spew off the usual explanations: energy conservation, (does that mean that Arizona is not a friend to the environment? Hum…) the farmers and wars. (even over the phone, I saw her eyebrows arch) Then I went in for the kill. I added the tiny school children waiting at the bus stop.

“Nope,” she said. “Not buying it.”

So I decided to do a little research and find facts that might appease her. Here’s what I found.

Officially, day light savings time was initiated in an attempt to save electricity. Television and lights are at the highest demand when families are at home in the evenings.

A study published in 1970 found that setting our clocks back only one hour, trimmed electric usage by 1% per day. More recent studies in February of 2008, suggested the actual savings is more like .05%.

Interesting enough, but how did the concept of daylight savings come to be?

As you might expect, the great thinker, Ben Franklin, had his hand in the mix. In early 1784, he published an essay titled, “An economical project for the diminishing cost of light.”

England heeded Mr. Franklin’s recommendation and realized that changing the clocks saved energy. Something of particular importance since the whole world was at war. The U.S. followed England’s lead and initiated DST during World War I and World War II.

After WWII ended, the U.S. resisted the urge to take an official stance on DST and left it up to each individual state to decide. Confusion raged. Broadcasting stations, trains and buses became completely discombobulated. In order to clear the air, (or the clock in this case) Congress decided to pass a law and end the confusion. (end confusion instead of creating confusion, novel approach–by the way, the states still have the right to petition the national law, ie. Arizona).

The clocks were adjusted on the second Sunday of November and the last Sunday of April.(this would change to the first Sunday in April under the Reagan Administration and then to the second Sunday in March during George W. Bush’s Presidency. The fall time adjustment was also changed to the first weekend in November at that time.)

During the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, Congress put most of the nation on extended DST, lasting for two years. The energy savings during this time was significant and the government wanted to continue the with the initiative. But when the farming states protested, the government conceded and went back to the Spring and Fall time adjustment. (so that was the farmers part)

In 1974, the U.S. DOT conducted an experiment, adding two months to test the actual savings during the DST period. They found that the nation saved 10,000 barrels of oil each day.(during the oil embargo period, 600,000 barrels were saved by DST).

The study revealed that more people were able to travel to and from work and school in daylight, preventing traffic injuries and saving lives.(here’s where the kids join the story) Fifty lives were saved and 2,000 injuries avoided, adding up to an approximate savings of $28 million in traffic costs)

Finally, DST lowered crime. People are generally inclined to get errands and chores done in the daylight, lessening their exposure to various crimes that usually happen after dark.

Well researched and armed with facts, I got ready to call my friend. I speed dialed her number. But before she had a chance to answer, I hung up. A thought bounced around in my head.

Fall is here. The leaves change, the weather changes, even the intensity of the sun rays have subsided. So why are we any different? The time change gives us a golden opportunity to switch gears. A chance to slow down, regroup and reflect. The excuse to recharge our depleted batteries and connect with family and friends. Time to dig out from under the clutter in our homes and in our hearts. The winter solstice is just a short six weeks away.(and we all know how fast six weeks flies by) Let the darkness be a sign. Go inside and take inventory.

Finally, I made the call. I hit redial, plead my case and tried to change my friend’s mind about DST. I failed.

I recalled an old gymnastic antic. “When in doubt, cowboy out, make a space for your face.”

In order to save face, I pulled out the big gun. “Okay,” I told her. “If you’re not going to bite on philosophy, facts, or even history, how about the environment. You want to be green don’t you?”

“What do you mean?” She said defensively. “I’m very concerned about our planet.”

“Look at it this way. Use DST as a reminder to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Swapping out the AAs twice a year will make sure that the detectors work in case of a fire. And then take the time to contact your waste management company and find out how to properly dispose of batteries or the alarms.”

She was silent.

“Well isn’t that just the best thing I’ve ever heard. What a clever reminder. Safety for my family and for the environment.” Her solemn mood lifted.

Even in the darkness, there’s always a ray of light.

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