The Clocks Go Forward… And Back… And Forward…
One hundred years ago a London builder, William Willett, decided to cost ‘Daylight Saving’ hours in terms of health, happiness and energy. Judging from the MSN and Google search engine referrals, many of us would like to see the same thing happen again.
To my amazement the MSN search engine has been listing one of this website’s articles on ‘Daylight Saving’ as around number one of over 347,000 entries (the article’s also 7th of 21,000+ for Google). Obviously, there’s a lot of interest in this topic!
Daylight saving in another age
The strange thing is, as I’ve now discovered, it all came about in the first instance because of a London builder, William Willett (1856 – 1915) who was riding on Chislehurst Common in Kent one Summer morning in 1905, and realised that a lot of people were still abed, with their curtains drawn. This was more than Willett could take, so at his own cost he published a pamphlet (not an uncommon thing to do in those days – probably the equivalent of a media release now?) entitled The Waste Of Daylight, in which he extolled a complicated way of ‘extending’ daylight hours by making Summer Time ‘later’ in the day.
Willett’s ideas only became law in 1916, during the First World war and after his death (and then in a less complex mode), when the idea began to make sense in terms of energy saving at that time – though the benefit was short-lived because every country on both sides of the combat then also adopted it.
The cost-benefit analysis, 1907-style
Today, there are many who believe that Willett was right about British Summer Time, but quite wrong in thinking that we should have British Standard Time (i.e. ‘Winter Time’) at all. Willett argued that Summer Time would be healthier and happier for everyone, who could enjoy the lighter Summer evening and the leisure opportunities the ‘extra’ hour afforded. Even more impressively, he costed the economic benefits of the manoeuvre (£2.5 million p.a. in cash terms then, after lighting cost adjustments). And all this at his own expense.
What is deeply puzzling to many people is that this careful cost-benefit analysis has not been applied as carefully to our contemporary world. Willett wrote his pamphlet at a time when gas lighting was the norm, and when motor cars had barely been invented. At that time much more of the British economy was land-based and evening paid-for leisure activities were probably far less in demand than now.
So why has there been no more recent work on this? Where is the contemporary data which gives a full appraisal of the costs of having ‘Winter Time’? No longer can we even just think about what suits, and what is most safe and healthy for, us as individuals…. more ‘feel good’ serotonin, or more ‘sleepy’ melatonin? Safer journeys in the morning or in the evening?
Now even these judgements do not suffice; we have constantly and urgently to think also of what is least costly to our planet.
Judging from the current interest in this topic on the worldwide web, a lot of people would agree with me and many other commentators: the time has come to follow the example of a London builder of a century ago, and think anew about Daylight Saving and its benefits.
Posted on October 4, 2006, in Arts, Culture And Heritage, BST: British Summer Time And 'Daylight Saving', Education, Health And Welfare, Events And Notable Dates, Politics, Policies And Process, Sustainability As If People Mattered and tagged British Summer Time, Daylight saving. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.