diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 24, 2011

I had a post lined up this week to discuss the iniquities of British Summer Time. And then, out of the blue, this is the week the Government proposes the biggest shake-up of British Summer Time in 30 years. So I'll save my planned post until tomorrow, and start by getting this off my chest...

Hey Britain, steel yourself for Double Summer Time. This is the Coalition's latest wheeze to boost tourism/save energy/cut road deaths by making our evenings lighter later. More specifically they're considering changing from GMT to GMT+1 in the winter, and from GMT+1 to GMT+2 in the summer. This doesn't increase the amount of daylight we have, that's physically impossible, but it does shift more of the available daylight past breakfast to a time when you're actually awake. In June Double Summer Time would mean it'd stay light until roughly 11pm, but conversely in late December the sun wouldn't rise anywhere in Britain before 9am. The BBC have a very useful graphic to show the extremes, which I've semi-cannibalised to create this table.

Sunrise and sunset times - Single/Double Summer Time
 LondonAberdeenBelfastPenzance
December 21 sunrise
December 21 sunset
9:04am
4:53pm
9:46am
3:27pm
9:44am
4:59pm
9:18am
5:22pm
June 21 sunrise
June 21 sunset
5:43am
10:22pm
5:12am
11:08pm
5:47am
11:04pm
6:12am
10:36pm

I think everyone agrees that lighter evenings in the winter would be a good thing. Fewer accidents on the roads, cheaper electricity bills because the lights go on later, and no longer that sense of gloom when the sky goes dark before 4pm. In London the sun would set within a few minutes of 5pm from mid-November to mid-January, which has got to be better than we have now. But there's a price to pay. Sunrise in London would take place later than 9am for several midwinter weeks, and much nearer 10am for everybody across Scotland. Would dark mornings wear you down more than light evenings would cheer you up - that's the key question.

Let's take a more detailed look at what Double Summer Time would mean for sunrise and sunset times across an entire year. I've picked Leeds because it's roughly in the centre of the country, and I've given approximate times for the middle of the month in each case. Remember, everything in this table is one hour later than we have now.

Approximate sunrise and sunset times for Leeds (DST)
 JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
sunrise09:1508:3007:1507:0006:0005:3006:0006:4507:4508:3008:3009:15
sunset17:1518:1519:1521:0022:0022:4522:3021:3020:1519:1517:0016:45

Sunrise (winter): There'd be five (yes five) months of the year when the sun rises later than 8am, and two months when it rises later than 9am (ugh, that'd be miserable)
Sunrise (summer): There'd only be one month of the year when the sun rises before 6am (hurrah, this minimises the amount of wasted daylight while most people are asleep)
Sunset (winter): There'd be only three months of the year when the sun sets before 6pm, and just one when it sets before 5pm (hurrah, that'd be great)
Sunset (summer): There'd be four months of the year when the sun sets later than 9pm, and two months when it sets later than 10pm (hurrah if you're outdoors) (boo if you're trying to get to sleep)

Changing to Double Summer Time would be easy. At the end of March we'd shift our clocks forward an hour as usual, but then in October we'd choose not to turn them back. The following March we'd shift our clocks forward one further hour, aligning us with Double Summer Time, and then we'd continue with "Spring forward, Fall back" as usual every year.

Switching to Double Summer Time would also mean...
embracing the same timezone as the rest of Europe
tweaking our clocks to better suit foreign tourists
abandoning Greenwich Mean Time forever
never again celebrating New Year at the 'right' time
...which makes it extra-surprising it's the Conservatives suggesting this.

We'd essentially be joining Central European Time. Our clocks would read the same in London as they do in Vienna, and in Belfast the same as they do in Warsaw. This is astronomically perverse. The sun takes precisely one hour to travel through 15 degrees of longitude, but the longitudes of Belfast and Warsaw are nearly 30 degrees apart. We'd be joining a CET timezone that's twice as wide as it ought to be, with the sun taking two hours to travel from one side to the other rather than just one.

The UK took part in a DST experiment back in 1968, spending three years with the clocks set one hour ahead of normal. But dark mornings in the northern half of the country weren't popular, and the experiment was soon abandoned by politicians fearful of losing their seats. Now that Scotland's independent they could go it alone, staying on GMT/BST while the rest of the UK goes Double. But do we really want to be changing our watches as we cross the Scottish border? And is a Kingdom split by time really a United one?

Personally I hope we leave our clocks where they are. Daylight Saving is already the most successful con trick of all time, persuading entire nations to do everything an hour earlier than they would otherwise for seven months of the year. Double Summer Time would simply extend the pretence for the entire year, shunting everyone an extra hour into the future. It's government-enforced time travel, enabled purely because certain businesses would find it advantageous. It's not really increasing daylight, it's just shifting winter gloom from evenings to mornings. And anyway, like I said, there's another issue with British Summer Time which I really think needs dealing with first. Of which more tomorrow.

» The Daylight Saving Bill 2010-11 (pdf)
» How Scotland would be affected (pdf)
» How Daylight Saving originated (in Petts Wood)


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