Seasonal clock changes: A controversial ritual


The semiannual changing of the clocks for winter and summer has been a ritual in Europe since 1916, originally conceived as an energy-saving measure.

But over the years many countries have abandoned the switch, and now the European Union will recommend abolishing it altogether in a proposal to the European Parliament.

U.S. statesman Benjamin Franklin is credited with coming up with the idea for clock changes in 1784, in a satirical essay published in the Journal de Paris in which he called on France to move the start of the day back by an hour to cut back on using candles.

The establishment of the twice-yearly change — one hour forward in the summer, one hour back in winter — was adopted in 1916 by the German and Austro-Hungarian empires to save on electricity during World War I.

The same year, the British Empire and France also introduced the clock changes.

The main idea behind clock changing was to harmonize the hours of activity with those of daylight to limit the use of artificial lighting.

Under pressure from farmers, the United States and many countries in Europe stopped the practice between World War I and World War II before reintroducing it in the 1970s in the wake of the oil crisis.

During the Allied Occupation of Japan after World War II, clock changes were introduced in 1948 but were abolished in 1952 after reversion.

Since 1998, the date for the start of summer time — the last Sunday in March — and the start of winter time — the last Sunday in October — has been harmonized throughout the European Union.

Canada, most of the United States, Mexico, Jordan, New Zealand, Lebanon, Israel and Cuba all apply the twice-yearly change.

But the clocks stay the same all year in Africa, apart from in Morocco, and in many countries in Asia.

Protest movements have emerged around the world highlighting the negative impact of clock changes and arguing that with the progress of technology, the energy-saving ritual has become irrelevant.

Critics say the changes affect our health by playing havoc with the body clocks of children and the elderly in particular, and hitting hardest those who work outdoors.

The environment is also a factor to take into consideration. Atmospheric pollution increases in the summer, and traffic peaks coincide with maximum sunlight.

The agricultural community also says clock changes are disruptive to farm animals.

China also floated seasonal clock changes in 1986, but the trial proved inconclusive and a single stable time was re-established in 1991.

Russia has gone back and forth, first introducing changes in 1917 and finally, after a number of experiments and protests, settling in 2014 on wintertime the whole year round.

Belarus, Iceland and Argentina have ditched clock changes, as did Chile in 2015 although it rescinded the following year, leaving a world still divided on the question of tampering with time according to the season.