In February, Brazilians moved their clocks back one hour, signaling the end of daylight saving time (DST)—for good.
President Jair Bolsonaro announced this month that, come November, Brazilians will no longer need to endure the confusion and complications of government-mandated time travel.
Nor should the rest of the world.
Some 70 countries, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, observe DST to some extent, seeking to leverage natural daylight and reduce energy consumption. Parts of Canada, Mexico, the United States, and most of Europe are in this group. However, the well-intentioned measure has proved counterproductive, and prudent countries are rolling it back.
Notably, the European Parliament voted in March to scrap its coordinated DST from 2021. All 28 member nations—or 27, Brexit withstanding—must stop the twice-yearly switch and either settle on summer or winter time for the foreseeable future.
A public consultation prior to the vote showed that Europeans detest the clock changes: a crushing 84 percent of respondents wanted to end what has been an EU-wide imposition since 1996. In the United States, a 2014 poll revealed only 34 percent of respondents thought DST was worth the hassle.
Declining Benefits, Observable Costs
A mix of diminishing returns on savings, evolving global markets, and health concerns have turned the tide against DST.
In 2018, a study by Brazil’s national electricity operator found the clock adjustment no longer “benefits electricity consumers and the Brazilian electricity system, given the evolving consumption habits and the present set up of the Brazilian electricity sector.”
Peak energy consumption during summer is no longer at night but rather in the hot afternoon, the authors explained, when maxed out air-conditioners blast offices and homes across the country. A rising middle class and cheaply available appliances are rendering the benefits negligible. According to the report, Brazil saved $100 million in energy costs with DST in 2013. Four years later, it had plummeted by two-thirds.
This confirms a natural experiment that took place in Indiana, which decided to adopt DST statewide in 2006. Economists with the National Bureau of Economic Research decided to look at electricity bills before and after DST implementation. They found the warmer hour of extra daylight led to more air-conditioning use and thus higher bills for residents, to the tune of $9 million. Further, “estimates of the social costs due to increased pollution emissions range from $1.7 million to $5.5 million per year.”
The nature of work also is altering the cost-benefit analysis. Brazil instituted DST in 1931 during a completely different world. Nowadays, our highly specialized economies have created job schedules leading to more people leaving for work later in the day. Freelancers and gig-economy workers—an increasing portion of today’s job market—don’t even go to an office. Even if contrary to our perceptions, we work fewer hours and enjoy more leisure time than our parents.
Against Human Nature
New scientific evidence has also shifted the consensus toward DST posing significant health hazards. The EU Commission, which commissioned studies to assess the impact of DST, concluded that “the effect on the human biorhythm may be more severe than previously thought.”
Our bodies aren’t well equipped to handling sudden time changes, as anyone who has had a seat on a transatlantic flight can attest. DST diminishes both sleep duration and efficiency. Rather than losing just one hour on the night of the transition, “data suggests that increased sleep fragmentation and sleep latency present a cumulative effect of sleep loss, at least across the following week, perhaps longer.” That’s according to a 2013 study by UK researcher Yvonne Harrison with Liverpool John Moores University.
The lack of sleep and drowsiness in the morning can lead to traffic and home-related accidents. Researchers in New Zealand, which observes summer time in the Southern Hemisphere, found “the start of DST is associated with significantly higher rates of road accidents,” and “accident rates for Falls and Home & Community [increase] prior to the [end] of DST,” which suggests that people even alter their behavior in anticipation.
The resulting sleep deprivation not only leads to heart attacks, but it is also a waste of money. Lisa Kramer, a professor of finance at the University of Toronto, wrote in The Globe and Mail about research she conducted with her colleagues on the economic impacts of DST: “We looked at stock-returns data for Canada, the United States, Britain, and Germany, and found returns tended to be lower on average on the Monday after the time change, both in the spring and the fall, perhaps due to heightened anxiety arising from market participants’ disrupted sleep schedules.”
Brazil was one of the few remaining South American countries that observed DST, besides neighboring Paraguay and Chile; Argentina abolished DST in 2009. Major nations such as Japan, Russia, China, and India don’t tamper with their clocks as the seasons change, and they demonstrate the preferential route for the rest of the world.
As we have all experienced, confusion, late arrivals, and missed appointments make the yearly ritual an unnecessary source of frustration and anxiety. A March 2019 poll in the United States before the overnight change showed almost a quarter of respondents didn’t know which way to turn their clocks (12 percent planned to incorrectly turn them back one hour instead of moving them forward).
The notion that fiddling with our clocks makes us happier and saves costs is a façade. There is nothing wrong with enjoying sunlight, one doesn’t need a time-change mandate to do that. Decreased productivity, quality of life, and needless disorder are the fruits of social engineering that has failed the test of time.
Fergus Hodgson is the founder and executive editor of Latin American intelligence publication Antigua Report. He is also the roving editor of Gold Newsletter and a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. Daniel Duarte contributed to this article.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.