As usual, around the time the the clocks go forward into British Summer Time, there’s a debate about whether we should stay an hour ahead all year round, or one hour ahead in the winter and two in the summer. This year, though, it looks a bit more serious than usual, with an organised campaign for change backed by the two main political parties.
The aim of the 10:10 movement is generally pretty admirable: everyone should cut their carbon emissions by 10% in the year 2010. And their point about putting the clocks forward is that we’d use less electric lighting if we had an extra hour’s daylight in the evenings. They’re probably right, but I just can’t bring myself to support this change, for two main reasons.
Let’s start with national pride. I’m not a flag-waver by any means, but the idea that Britain, more specifically Greenwich, is the centre of the map (longitudinally-speaking) is one I’m proud of. It was Britain that decided the standard for world timekeeping, a scientific and diplomatic achievement that outlasted the Empire to the present day. Every time zone in the world is GMT ± something. Call it UTC if you like (in a compromise between the Anglophone and Francophone participants in naming the standard, UTC stands for Co-ordinated Universal Time or Temps Universel Coordonné, which I find amusing), but the zero point is the Greenwich Meridian. Now, do we abandon this, and join the natural time zone of central Europe? To me, this seems worse than adopting the Euro in place of the pound – something I would vote for, given the opportunity. To me, money is just an arbitrary system for counting value, and I don’t care which units you use. Time, however, is one of the fundamental dimensions of the universe, and I don’t want it adapted to our convenience.
Which brings me to my second, and more heartfelt, point. The time of day depends on the rotation of the Earth. When we are pointed directly at the Sun, i.e. it appears directly overhead, it is midday. When we are directly on the other side, it is midnight. That is the basis for any rational system for defining what time of day it is. Destroying this link, as we already do for half of every year, removes our culture one step further from nature. It is like installing bright streetlights all over the country, so that blackbirds sing all night and the stars are hidden in glare. It is like building bypasses (you’ve got to build bypasses) through ancient hills and woods. It is intellectually and spiritually ugly. And it is unnecessary.
I know the 10:10 site has a list of ten (there would be ten) good reasons to switch to SDST. Environment, health, happiness, productivity, warm feelings inside. But every one of these can be achieved without changing the clocks at all. If you needed to get up an hour earlier than usual, would you set your alarm clock to ring an hour earlier, or would you set it to show the wrong time? The former, unless you’re very strange. So why do we, as a nation, do the latter? The clock change is tailored to a subset of people: those who live in the south of England, and work, or go to school, in something like a conventional nine-to-five time slot. Those who work early shifts, or live in the far north, are disadvantaged. Those who work at other times, or make their own schedules, or don’t work at all, have little reason to be affected by it either way. So why don’t the people who would benefit from getting up earlier just get up earlier, and leave the clocks alone? The schedule for schools, universities, hospitals, libraries and other public institutions could be set by councils, county-by-county, according to location and the needs of local people. Private companies could follow suit, or not, as it suited them. Would people really complain about getting up earlier in the summer, exactly as we do anyway, just because the clock worked the same way as in the winter? I like to think we’re not that stupid.