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Beating The Clock

It was the higher electric bills every month that made Lois Sarno think it was time for a change: a time change.

So Sarno, 58, persuaded her legislator to propose a bill that would put Massachusetts on daylight-saving time year-round in an effort to save energy, and let people enjoy more evening sunlight.

“I got tired of watching the older people on television who couldn't afford the electricity,” said Sarno, a housewife. “It's such a simple way of straightening out a problem.”

The bill, proposed by state Rep. William Greene, comes as skyrocketing electricity prices force California and other states to also consider the change.

Most people know daylight-saving time as the twice-yearly tradition that often leaves VCR clocks an hour off and forgetful parishioners slipping late into church one Sunday a year.

DST is not observed in
  • Hawaii
  • American Samoa
  • Guam
  • Puerto Rico
  • Virgin Islands

  • the Eastern Time Zone portion of Indiana
  • Arizona
  • (with the exception of the Navajo Indian Reservation)
But the tradition was originally meant to save energy, a concern that has been forced back to the forefront of national attention as California suffers through blackouts, and electricity costs spiral up in Massachusetts and elsewhere.

Benjamin Franklin first mentioned daylight-saving time in an essay in 1784, noticing Parisians rising from their beds after several hours of daylight were lost, and staying up well into the nighttime darkness, wasting oil and candles.

The United States first enacted daylight-saving during World War I to save light-producing energy during the late hours of the day.

It was extended throughout the year from 1942 to 1945 during World War II, and then again during the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The rationale is that people spend more time outdoors and use fewer lights when it is still daylight during the active early evening hours.

In response to California's current energy crisis, Congress is now considering legislation to expand daylight-saving time there, and similar proposals are being debated in state Legislatures.

Arizona and Hawaii are the only states that don't change their clocks at all — both states keep Standard Time year-round.

State Rep. Rachel Kaprielian said she would welcome the switch to permanent daylightsaving time, to avoid those depressingly dark drives home at 4:30 p.m. on winter afternoons.

Reverting to Standard Time every fall is a relic of the farmer's way of life, Kaprielian said, a schedule that still exists with summer vacations for children to help out with the harvest.

“It's an anachronism,” she said.

Sometimes it's also just confusing. When dawn breaks over Indiana, it might be Central Standard Time, Eastern Standard Time or Eastern Daylight Time depending on where you're standing.

In order to become law in Massachusetts, the change would have to be approved by the House and Senate, and then signed by the governor.

Daylight-saving time officially begins each year at 2 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and changes back to Standard Time at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.

Those against daylight-saving time have often argued that setting the clocks ahead would throw cows off schedule, making life difficult for farmers. Opponents also worry about schoolchildren waiting for buses in the dark.

Dr. Charles Czeisler, a sleep specialist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said it's ironic that we give ourselves more evening light in the summer, when it's already plentiful, and then take an hour away in the winter, when darkness is already coming earlier.

“We are shifting people's time zones twice a year unnecessarily,” Czeisler said.

Sarno said she thinks of the issue in slightly different terms.

“The more light you have at the end of the day, people aren't as cranky,” she said. “I don't know anybody who likes it getting dark earlier, I really don't.”

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