Spain Sunday: Daylight Saving Time

The Romans always adapted their clocks to the changing daylight hours over the seasons. So you could say Europeans have basically always been observing some sort of Daylight Saving Time. And yes it’s saving time, not savings time. They switched a little differently, so DST, as we know it, was introduced during WW1 to save energy for the war (and keep factories open). Many countries ditched it after the war (only to readopt it for WW2).

People have always thought DST either saves energy or helps farmers. But it doesn’t actually do either.

Daylight saving should save you money (in energy) since you’ll use the sun’s light instead of your home’s artificial lights. In reality, people usually spend more money on air conditioning and heating since there is “more time” in the day. They also drive more and end up using more gas. Most lobbyists for DST are not local businesses or farmers but golf, candy and barbecue industries (candy for Halloween, while golf balls and charcoal sell better with longer summer days. More to read about this here).

It doesn’t help farmers because it harms the circadian rhythm of their animals, and gives farmers less time to work. There is also an increase in heart attacks and car accidents immediately after the switch.

Yet 70 countries around the world change their clocks every year. And they don’t even do it at the same time:

This makes some sense because these countries are nowhere near each other. Except actually Israel and Spain are only 1 hour apart on time zones- why switch clocks 2 days apart? Who knows.

Fortunately Spain is part of the European Union (EU). The EU currently mandates all 28 countries within the EU have to switch at the same time.  At least since 1981. Before then the countries switched whenever they wanted – if they wanted.

  • Germany has used DST off and on since 1908 (they have currently been using it since 1949)
  • Spain has used it since 1974
  • Portugal and the Netherlands have used it since 1977
  • Lichtenstein has used it since it became mandatory (in the EU) in 1981

Switzerland isn’t even part of the EU but they switched in 1981 to keep up with the rest of the EU.

It was a big mess of everyone having different time zones and observing different DSTs (or none at all). Keep in mind you can drive across the whole EU in about 24 hours and you’ll cross 3 time zones (but you could’ve switched back and forth between DST and non-DST repeatedly). For the sake of inner EU-trade and business it made sense to keep everyone switching clocks together.

Well Europe has enjoyed having a vague sense of normality since 1981 but now they’re like “hmmm heart attacks, sleep deprivation, cows’ circadian rhythms, energy, oil? This sucks. ..? Does this suck?” So this August they asked everyone to vote online. As a poll, not an official vote.

People were worried about

  • biorhythm – losing 1 hour of sleep can really whack the body up. Especially in elderly and young people.
  • trade – Africa and Asia don’t even observe DST. Maybe an entire continental mass shouldn’t have to worry about that crap
  • electricity – according to the EU energy consumption is only reduced by 0.5% to 2.5%
  • farm animals- studies suggest they’re very sensitive to circadian rhythms and find it difficult to start being fed at different times. You can at least try to rationalize it to a person – but a cow? They have no idea what’s going on.
  • heart attacks increasing (although some say they decrease in fall when you’re able to get more sleep)

People like it, though, because

  • it might help with crime rates. More light means less crimes.
  • it might help with road safety. Sometimes. Half the time it seems to help prevent accidents and other times it doesn’t. Depends on the time of the day and season.
  • there is more time after work to enjoy the day. A working adult may not have a chance to actually enjoy the world outside of working hours (depending on the time zone or latitude)
  • all those arguments – that heart attacks and car accidents are bad – those only happen for a couple days when the switch happens. Then things are back to normal
  • it’s good for shops – more sunlight means more window shopping. In the winter more brightly lit shops (contrasted with the dark world) make the stores more appealing

The EU, as a whole, has to switch together. It’s not feasible for Sweden (who has terrible sunlight hours) to have to coordinate with Denmark who might say they want to keep it. But Germany doesn’t. It would cost so much money for everyone to switch independently. At least that’s what they said.

Just one hour after they put the online poll up it actually shut down from too many people trying to visit the site at one time  (4.6 million people ended up voting).

A similar poll was done in 2014 and the EU, for the most part, said they were happy with it (except for Finland who can’t stand it). People in Lapland obviously see things differently than those in southern Spain. At the time of voting they said it was a group-wide change; all or none in favor or against. But …

The results are in…

~82% of 4.6 million voters want to stop changing clocks. So now the EU is suddenly saying they’re willing to remove the rule that requires everyone to switch together. I’m not going to say this has anything to do with Brexit. But I’m not not saying it, either.

Germans and Austrians were the biggest voters while the Italians barely voted at all.  Only 0.19% of Spaniards voted. They were the 7th lowest turnout behind Denmark, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Italy, Romania and the UK.

But 93% of Spanish voters who actually voted said get rid of it. The Balearic Islands have always hated changing clocks and have been petitioning to be allowed to opt out while the rest of Spain would continue switching. But now all of Spain seems to be done with it (er, at least the .19% people who could be arsed to vote).

Spain is as far west as the UK and Ireland but they use the wrong time zone (they’re using Nazi Germany’s Time Zone. More information here). So we already have some pretty wonky time zones here with the sun setting at 9 pm and coming up at 8 am. So as it stands there are more daylight hours in Spain than anywhere else in Europe.


Look at that solar flare! It’s always sunny here.

Spain has talked for years about getting off of Nazi Germany’s time zone and onto the timezone they should be on. But they’re not willing to make the big change – it would cost a lot. So maybe stopping Daylight Saving Time will be a happy medium for at least pretending time makes sense in Spain.

The 28th of October could be the last time many Europeans ever turn their clocks back. The official ruling will come into place in March of next year – to allow countries to decide to keep it or not. Hopefully Spain will be one of them.

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