Damn Daylight Saving Doesn’t Save

NPR covered it like an eclipse or astronomic curiosity, and did little to question the claimed energy saving benefits. But, as Michael Downing asks in Spring Forward, how can something understood by so few be done by so many? And why go through this twice annual madness?

Supposedly, we subject ourselves to the rule of time to conserve oil, but even the most wildly optimistic predictions suggest only a 1% drop in consumption. And those predictions are based on bad data.

The 1% statistic came from the 1970s when people used less oil during the OPAC OPEC embargo, making it difficult to tell what caused what. A late 1960’s British experiment with daylight saving time failed to show any such benefit, and an Australian experiment in 2000 showed none. In fact, it resulted in “a slight but statistically negligible increase in overall usage.”

Seed Magazine re-ran numbers in 2006 and estimated that at best we might achieve a 0.04% oil savings based on the theories (the Australian report hadn’t been published by that time), and reported:

Saving four-hundredths of one percent is like shaving about 200 feet off of 100 miles. Does any sane person think this will make a serious dent in our energy use?

Alternatively, a one mile per gallon increase in average fuel economy would result in a 4% reduction in fuel use and cut our overall oil consumption by 1.6%.

There might be good reasons to extend DST, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s going to do anything about our energy problem. Sometimes the little things mean a lot. Sometimes they don’t mean squat.

Special thanks to servus for the CC-BY-SA photo.