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Last Updated: Friday, 9 November 2007, 16:16 GMT
Spring forward, fall back
Setting the clocks back in Florida

By Lisa Jardine

We think of time as tied to the seasons, but politicians have been tinkering with clocks and calendars for centuries. George Bush is the latest to do so.

For the past 40 years, my mother - now 90 - has lived in California. These days we try to talk to one another on the telephone several times a week, in the middle of the morning her time, which - eight hours on - is the end of my working day.

Last week the reassuring routineness of our regular calls suffered a small but significant confusion. This year the United States, without any particular fanfare, put its clocks forward three weeks earlier than those of the European Union, on the second Sunday in March, and put them back a week late last Sunday - on the first Sunday in November, rather than (as we did here) on the last Sunday in October.

Lisa Jardine
Sweet manufacturers wanted an extension so that the clocks were turned back after Halloween

So when my mother phoned at her usual time, she found me only seven hours ahead of her, barely home from work, rather than comfortably settled in the living room awaiting her call.

These changes in dates for Daylight Saving Time are part of the Energy Policy Act, signed into law by President Bush in August 2005, which came into force in 2007. And there were political motives behind President Bush's tinkering with the clocks.

The Energy Policy Act is a set of measures ostensibly aimed at reducing the US's emission of greenhouse gases, and countering global warming - a set of what to me at least seem like token gestures on the part of the Bush administration, to make up for their steadfast refusal to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol with its targets for industrialised countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing Daylight Saving Time supposedly makes a significant contribution to energy conservation.

Lighter longer

It was rumoured, too, that the extension of Daylight Saving Time beyond the end of October came in response to lobbying by the US confectionary industry.

Trick or treating in Texas
More light for trick or treat this year
Sweet manufacturers wanted a Daylight Saving Time extension so that the clocks were turned back after Halloween. The extra hour of daylight on 31 October would mean more time when parents could safely let their children go trick or treating, with resulting enhanced sales for the basketfuls of candy traditionally handed out to them.

The most overtly political aspect of the act, though, is that in its entirety it has so little regard for its impact on the rest of the world. Its measures were introduced with scant evidence of consultation outside the US. Yet several of them - including the alteration of Daylight Saving Time - have had knock-on effects beyond North America.

The act offers tax incentives to US farmers to change from growing grain for human consumption, to planting maize, sugar cane, palm oil and oil seed rape instead - all of which can be turned into biofuels. Tax incentives are also offered to fuel providers, if they can offer higher percentages of clean fuels on the filling station forecourt.

Daylight Saving Time was only seriously proposed in Britain exactly a century ago, as a politically acceptable means of extending the working day
But the altered pattern of crop-growing produced by this US legislation - enthusiastically embraced by rural farmers - has already helped drive up the price of bread in Britain, pasta in Italy and tortillas in Mexico.

We tend to think of time as tethered to the seasons and governed by the inexorable movement of the planets. Yet in spite of the fact that we behave, in general, as if the variations of clocks, time and time zones were natural and inevitable, politicians have tampered with time on many occasions in the past.

The idea of Daylight Saving Time itself was only seriously proposed in Britain exactly a century ago, as a politically acceptable means of extending the working day. William Willett, a keen early-morning horseman, noticed as he rode near his home early on a summer's morning, how many of the local residents were still asleep. In 1907 he published a pamphlet entitled The Waste of Daylight, in which he pointed out how many more hours could be got out of labourers if clocks went forward in summer time. Summer time as we know it was introduced in 1916.

Religious rivalry

In October 1582, it was politics that decided the English not to follow suit when Catholic Europe complied with a papal edict decreeing that 10 days be removed from the calendar to bring it back in line with that in use in 325, at the time of the first Council of Nicaea, thereby helping the vexed question of how to calculate the date of Easter.

Elizabeth I
Catholic Europe removed 10 days from the calendar, Elizabeth I didn't
Across Catholic Europe that year, 4 October was followed by 15 October, apparently without much fuss. But in spite of the fact that the learned English mathematician Dr John Dee counselled that calendar reform was essential, Queen Elizabeth I's Protestant administration chose not to comply.

It was not until 1752 that the English calendar (and that of her American colonies) was finally brought into line with that of the rest of Europe. By then the change necessitated the removal of 11 days - to account for the fact that the new calendar, but not the old, made 1700 a leap-year. When Wednesday 2 September was followed by Thursday 14 September, there was rioting on the streets of London, vividly captured in a painting by William Hogarth, in which the angry mob carries a banner with the slogan "Give us our 11 days".

Recent research has established that the change produced no widespread unrest. But it did cause social and economic confusion. In spite of assurances to the contrary, labourers lost 11 days' pay, and many annual contracts were adjusted downwards financially to take account of the shortened period. And King George II chose to move his birthday from 11 to 22 June, so as not to shorten the length of his reign.

To ensure consistency of financial record-keeping, the official English fiscal year was never shortened, with the result that in the UK alone, the tax year begins on a uniquely odd date. Add 11 days to the traditional 25 March start to the financial year and you get to 6 April - which has been the beginning of our tax year ever since.

Calendar confusion

My favourite calendar-driven piece of political finessing is less well-known, though hardly less historically significant. In late autumn 1688, the Protestant ruler of the Netherlands, William of Orange, embarked from the naval port of Hellevoetsluis to invade England and claim the throne on behalf of himself and his wife Mary, the reigning Catholic King James II's eldest daughter.

Landing of William of Orange
The landing of William of Orange
His invasion force consisted of an astounding 500 ships, an army of more than 20,000 highly trained professional troops, and a further 20,000 mariners and support staff.

The vast Dutch fleet was swept by a "providential wind" along the south coast of England, miraculously avoiding the English fleet in the Thames estuary, arriving off Torbay on 3 November - or rather, on what William's advisors considered to be 13 November, since they, along with the rest of Continental Europe (but not England), used the "new" Gregorian calendar.

William of Orange's birthday was 14 November. Many in his entourage urged him to take advantage of the significance of that day to launch his invasion. Such a landing date would, they argued, strike the English as propitious. But as far as the English were concerned, the date on which William's birthday fell was still 10 days away. So Prince William and his fleet decided to lay to off the English coast just two more days before landing, commencing disembarkation on what according to the English calendar was 5 November 1688 - known today as Guy Fawkes Day.

Thus it was that the landing which began the so-called Glorious Revolution took place on the anniversary of another great triumph of English Protestantism over the hostile forces of Catholicism - the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. The convenient match with the familiar date meant that Catholic threats were uppermost in Englishmen's minds. The annual bonfires lit across the country to celebrate James I's narrow escape from a terrorist plot also announced the arrival of the man who would drive the Catholic King James II from the throne of England.

So whenever politicians turn their attention to calendars and clocks, we should take a long hard look beyond the apparently innocuous practical benefits proposed. There is bound to be something more considerable at stake than an extra hour in bed.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Most kids where i live go out hallowe'ening between 6pm and 8pm. At 6pm this year it was pitch black, the same as last year when we were on Standard time. I'm not sure whether there is more to it than trying to save energy, but i for one welcomed having the clocks go forward in early March this year (instead of April). The spring forward is definitely an improvement.
Neil Lees, Montreal, Canada (ex. UK)

In the current 'climate' I find the most interesting point made was that the move to biofuels has already helped drive up the price of bread in Britain, pasta in Italy and tortillas in Mexico. As it has also resulted in the stripping of rainforest in Brazil and Indonesia to produce biofuels, this method of combating global warming will in the long term not only increase global warming but also increase famine. What angers me is that politicians must know this but continue to promote biofuels for their own selfish reasons, so unless humanity can be made to be less selfish I fear we are doomed.
Robin warde, Lagos/Algarve/Portugal

I'm no Bushy, but please tell your people not to say "Bush did it" when Congress was responsible. This isn't the UK, where what the PM says goes. Believe me, the President has a lot more on his mind than the date we shift the clocks. Any Act of Congress is usually riddled with goodies for some faction or other, often people who live in states with less population than a London borough, but who get two Senators and a Representative anyway. The real joke is that most of this nation is so much further south than Europe that DST is not needed anyway. It wasn't even on the books till the 60's.
David Jones, Rochester NY USA

Nice cheap shot at George Bush; The BBC unable to be impartial with anything.
Julian F,

Whilst I may agree with the initial sentiment of Lisa's Point of View, I believe her conclusion to be flawed. Having just returned from the US at the end of October, I was initially surprised that the clocks were not changing on the same weekend as ours. On reflection though, I then realised that there was actually no need; the mornings and evenings were still light! Certainly Halloween is celebrated everywhere very extensively, but it is probably only a cynic that could differentiate between which came first - the celebration or the sweets.
John, Nottingham. UK

What an odd mention of the double summertime that we enjoyed during WWII. What is the relationship to growing biofuels? I wish that we still had double summertime after all it's easier to drive to work in the dark than to drive home, tired, after work. Since it originated in the US surprising your Mum didn't cotton on to it. It had enough publicity and we in Canada followed the timing.
Pat Doyle, Edmonton, Canada

The time spent in daylight saving should be balanced around the shortest day in late December. If we can wait until November to put the clocks back, summer time can begin in February. We do not need to wait until March to regain the hour of evening daylight.
Brian McNealey, Avon Connecticut USA

I felt blessed growing up in Indiana, one of the few US states that didn't observe daylight savings time. I felt even more blessed moving to Arizona, which doesn't observe DST the same year Indiana adopted it. Now, having moved back to Indiana, I cannot stand the idea. Waking up one day and having the sun rise and set an hour earlier is a complete shock to the biological system, and a complete joke.
Justin Miller, Muncie, IN, USA

We have been "forced" to try Daylight Saving, here in Perth, for the 3rd time (voted out every time - but the Govt will keep trying - this time the push is for "personal entertainment" where previous attempts were "for business reasons". We have the longest daylight of any capital city in Australia but a few Ministers felt "it would be GOOD to have this and "entertain friends and family outdoors well into the evening". I see less people outdoors now than a normal summer!. Sun would set at 7:30 PM in high summer - as it that wasn't enough already? The Govt Health Dept's say, "Don't go outside - skin cancer and mosquito borne diseases will get you". The Govt can't generate enough power and since the start of our "3 year trial of Daylight Saving" - we have been told to "turn OFF" our air-conditioners (and endure hotter afternoons indoors!). To top that off we have water restrictions (and have had for about 8 years) - they didn't move the watering time forward 1 REAL hour - so we waste to evaporation by actually be able to water at 5 PM - when it's still well over 30 degrees c. Business houses who used to say "we can't operate with 3 hours time difference to the Eastern States 10 years ago, now use email - they also want to be on the same time zone as our major export countries like China and the rest of South East Asia. The Eastern States are a very small part of our trade. So I'm confused. Which Govt Departments are right? Health or 'personal time' - spent indoors away from the nasties outdoors but not really allowed to use our air-conditioning to make it comfortable.
Quenin Hall, Perth, Australia

Your comment that Bush's change is based on spurious (frankly incorrect) data is dead on. Your assertion of ripple effects elsewhere is inane. The US and Europe have not been on the same DST schedule during my years working with both, so the confusion is neither new nor exacerbated by the stupidity of the current US president.
Woody, Ringwood, USA

Twiddling the clocks makes no difference at all to the amount of daylight. Different people for different reasons want to twiddle the clock one way or the other to suit themselves. Let them organise their lives accordingly, but please do not let them fiddle about with the clock. Stick with Universal Standard Time (UTC) and keep your sanity. We can do away with the ridiculous International Date Line as well: who thought that one up? The greatest practical joker of ... er ... all time?
Nigel Perry, Bath UK

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