“It’s About Time”

(Photo: William Dimson – Flickr)

By William Kilgannon – Regular Contributor

Time is something that we all want more of. More time to do the things we enjoy, more time to spend with friends and families, and more time to make everlasting memories, but what if there is a way to do this?

During WWI, the German Army unearthed an ingenious plan that would change the course of time forever. In a setting of sacrifice and bloodshed, all efforts were channeled to the war effort in order to defeat the Allied Powers. However, to provide a slight edge over the Allies, the Germans changed time, quite literally.

In April 1916, the Germans invented Daylight Saving Time (DST) which saw the clocks in Germany move forward by 1 hour for the first time. This allowed the Germans to get the most out of the summer daylight. A few weeks after its introduction, the Allies discovered this wartime policy and matched it within their own countries. This policy exploited the intricacies of daylight hours, allowing factories to rely on daylight rather than artificial lighting produced by electricity. Ultimately, this saved much-needed energy. In addition, this invention allowed for fuel to be conserved, epitomising German efficiency most effectively, allowing resources to be re-directed towards the creation of bombs and weapons. Following the conclusion of World War I, Germany abandoned DST but many of the Allied powers did not.

For ease of this peace and the fact that Greenwich Meantime (GMT) has remained a backbone of civil time across the world for many centuries, a focus on the United Kingdom will be observed. The case of the UK is a curious one. The Daylight Saving Time that Germany championed, was renamed British Summer Time (BST) to make it, well, less German and more British. During WWII, a period of British Double Summer Time (BDST) saw the clocks move forward 2 hours instead of the usual 1 hour. Additionally, in 1947 a period of severe fuel shortages saw BDST reintroduced. Evidently, the time has been manipulated to serve the interests of the UK at the time of crisis. We need it again, now.

It has often been announced by activists, politicians, and everyone in between that we are in a period of a climate crisis. When everyone is being encouraged to use less energy, ditch their gas-guzzling cars, and always purchase greener alternatives to every solution, changing the clocks could help. If it worked for the Allies during desperate wartime, why would it not work now?

The case for an all-year-round introduction of British Summer Time would result in the altering of the clocks no more. This policy has been discussed by government officials before, under the Cameron/Clegg coalition through the 2010-2 Daylight Saving Bill until the consideration was filibustered out of parliament. The idea has also gained traction across Europe where the European Parliament held a vote which resulted in the scrapping of changing the clocks twice yearly however the immense bureaucracy of the European Council and the COVID-19 Pandemic has backlogged this proposal. In addition, across the pond, the Senate unanimously passed the proposal that would stop the fiddling of the clocks. Evidently, the United Kingdom is lagging behind the European Union and the United States of America in regard to this field. As it stands, it is mostly only North America and Europe that change their clocks with highly industrialised nations such as China and India long-abandoning this tradition. The United Kingdom needs to catch up with the rest of the world.

In practice, the adoption of British Summer Time would in effect shift daytime hours to later in the day, within the time period between 30 October and 27 March. This would result in more daylight during the late afternoon and evenings whilst less sunlight in the morning. The shortest day of the year is the 21st of December; currently, the Greenwich Meantime (GMT) results in sunrise being at 08:03 am and the sun setting at 15:53 pm. With the suggested proposal, this would shift sunrise to 9:03 am and sunset to 16:53 pm. BST is also described as GMT + 1, and the suggestion that we adopt BST all year round over GMT all year round comes with the advantages that more time can be devoted to evening activities whilst benefits medically, economically, and environmentally all favour the adoption of BST all year round over GMT.

Not only would the adoption of an all-year-round BST time zone for the UK improve energy efficiency, but carbon dioxide levels would also be reduced. Cambridge University found that at least 447,000 tonnes would be saved each year through the adoption of BST all year round. That is the equivalent of removing 97,173 cars from the road. This policy would not solve climate change, nor be the only answer to the United Kingdom’s greener future, but instead would be one small step towards our Net-Zero commitments.

Furthermore, adopting BST permanently would improve the health of citizens. A study by the University of Alabama found that once the clocks move forward in March, there is a 10% increase in the chance of heart attacks due to fatigue caused by the 1 hour less of sleep. As an aside, The AA estimates that 100 lives would be saved per year on the roads. Vitamin D levels would rise whilst Seasonal Affective Disorder (a form of depression), would be reduced due to the increased exposure to sunlight in the evenings when people are out of work and school. This would encourage social capital to be built where communities become stronger as society reverses the ongoing trend of not joining clubs and organisations. Often the cover of darkness discourages community engagement but the longer evenings would instead encourage people to spend more time with others; children would benefit most as they become more active by 20%. Within the context of the NHS struggling to cope with the record demand for its services and child obesity rising to ever-worrying figures, BST is not the final answer, but it is a small part of the solution.

Additionally, the United Kingdom is facing a cost of living crisis after the fallout from the COVID-19 Pandemic and the increase in global oil and gas prices caused by the Russia / Ukraine war. Now is the time to increase confidence in the economy to drive growth and reduce inflation. Putting money back in the pockets of everybody seems to be a close concern to both of the prospective Prime Ministers hopefuls, which BST could help. The darker evenings in the winter traditionally results in more electricity usage as we keep our lights on for longer however the longer evenings embraced by more sunlight would reduce electricity usage, saving £485 million each year in electricity bills. Additionally, with the suggestion that social capital would be increased, people are more likely to leave their homes vacant, thus using less electricity and heating which would put more money back in their pockets and be more environmentally beneficial in the winter months. Overall then, increased money in pockets due to reduced bills permit more money in circulation, supplying more much-needed confidence back into the economy with increased consumer buying power.

Recently, suggestions by The Electricity Supply Emergency Code have indicated that Kwasi Kwarteng, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the United Kingdom, may need to ration electricity. One course of action suggests ‘rota disconnections’ where power is limited or cut to some customers on a rotational basis to reduce demands. BST through the winter months would provide the option of alternatives to sitting indoors when the use of electricity is at its highest in the colder months.

As put, clearly, the adoption of British Summer Time is not the solution to the answer of the troubling economy, suffering healthcare, or the climate crisis, but it is a small part of a possible solution. Opposition against the adoption of British Summer Time all year round has been few and far between. The National Farmers’ Union in England and Wales has indicated that they are not against such a proposal whilst postal workers and the construction industry have failed to provide a stance on the issue. The proposal is slightly less popular in Scotland than it is in the UK however operating in the same time zone as Europe during the winter months would ease trade between the mainly Remain-supporting Scotland, the rest of the UK, and Europe.

Adopting an all-year-round British Summer Time would improve the health of the United Kingdom. The environment, economy, and healthcare are arguably the 3 biggest challenges facing successive UK governments in the short and long term. This proposal weighs up the variables in spending most eloquently. We would spend less on electricity and heating bills, and we would spend less time relying on the NHS. Instead, we would spend more time putting faith back into the economy and spending more time with family and friends, even newfound ones.

The reasons that have led to many countries across the world abandoning the changing of the clocks need to be realised by the government, whether that be this one or the next. The UK needs to catch up, it’s about time. 

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