Is It Time to Reconsider Daylight Savings Time?

Daylight savings time ends this weekend, but should it be ended for good? Georgia State economist Spencer Banzhaf has an op-ed in today’s WSJ questioning the case for shifting the clocks over the summer. Here’s a taste:

The United States adopted the annual use of daylight-saving time permanently in 1966, then lengthened its duration on the calendar in 1986 and again in 2007. For the past five years, an extended daylight-saving period has begun the second Sunday of March and ended the first Sunday of November. . . .

It is a fallacy to think that if something is good, then more of it must be better. In early November or mid-March, few people—college students excepted—are still sleeping through morning daylight. A household waking at, say, 6 a.m. and going to bed at 11 p.m. won’t experience any more daylight when its schedule is moved up an hour, to 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. No daylight wasted, no daylight to be saved.

So the extension of daylight-saving time gives us cold, dark mornings without the energy savings to compensate. Often it actually causes us to expend more energy: Even in my Atlanta home, for the past few weeks we’ve turned the heat on in the early-morning hours. The effect must be even more pronounced in colder climates.

The rationale for extending daylight savings time is that it’s supposed to save energy. But it doesn’t seem to actually work out that way. As Banzhaf notes, a study of several Indiana counties forced to adopt daylight savings time found that it actually increased energy use, likely due to increased residential air-conditioning use in the summer (due to more at-home daylight hours) and increased heating use in the winter (for fall mornings). Notes Banzhaf:

One could argue that long summer days are a social good and well worth the energy and environmental costs. But making that argument means recognizing that daylight-saving time is no win-win proposition.