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The European Commission is conducting a public poll on whether or not to change the current directive for daylight saving time (DST). The survey is open to all European citizens from now until August 16th. At present, all 28 of the EU member countries do observe daylight saving time, as is required in order to ensure the smooth operation of business and travel across the EU. This represents about one third of all localities using DST. As noted by a report in The Verge, the current poll appears to be a direct result of a petition signed by 70,000 citizens of Finland to ask the EU to abolish the directive, which prompted a debate in European Parliament about the issue.

Finland’s grievance in this case makes sense, as parts of the country are sufficiently north that the sun does not set for weeks during summer, likewise, the sun does not rise for weeks during winter. A meta-analysis of daylight saving time published this year indicates that “the savings from DST amount to 0.34% of total electricity consumption during the days when DST is applied,” but notes that DST makes little sense in places close to the poles such as Finland, as the difference between daylight hours in the winter and summer is too large. Accordingly, it makes little sense for localities close to the equator, as the amount of average daylight does not change significantly throughout the year.

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Though commonly believed to be proposed by Benjamin Franklin, DST is something of a relic of World War 1, as many European countries instituted it to conserve resources during wartime, though in large part ended with the war. The idea was revived during World War 2, after which it again was dropped following the end of that war. In present circumstances, the implementation originates from the 1970s energy crisis. (Finland observed DST once in 1942, and then annually since 1981.)

As a result of the Europe-centric origin of the concept, and its origins as a wartime conservation effort, the idea gained minimal traction outside of Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In Asia, presently only Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria observe DST. In Africa, only Morocco presently observes DST. The country started in 2008, but observation of DST is suspended during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Russia stopped observing DST in 2014 a three-year experiment of using permanent DST.

In the United States, Canada, and Australia, implementation of DST is aggravatingly uneven. Most of the United States, except Hawaii and most of Arizona observe DST. For Canada, parts of Quebec, British Columbia and Nunavut, as well as most of Saskatchewan do not observe DST, though Saskatchewan observes Central Time though it would geographically be in the Mountain Time Zone, making it effectively observe DST all year. In Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, and Western Australia do not observe DST.

Given the amount of difficulties in DST implementation, such as alarms not working as intended, as well as having negative consequences for mood and productivity, and increasing workplace injuries according to this CBS News report, the prospect of ending this arcane and outmoded idea should be embraced.

The uneven application of daylight saving time serves to further complicate collaboration between groups of workers in remote locations. From a nationally-internal perspective, this problem can be felt acutely in Australia, as the country splits from three time zones to having five time zones during DST. Consider a three-party meeting between groups in Brisbane, Sydney, and Adelaide. During standard time, the three cities are split between two time zones, as Adelaide is in the south-central part of the country, so a meeting at 2:00 PM in Brisbane is also 2:00 PM in Sydney, but is at 1:30 PM in Adelaide. In DST, this meeting at 2:00 PM in Brisbane becomes 3:00 in Sydney, and 2:30 in Adelaide. Expanding this scope for a fourth party in some other part of the world adds to the confusion.

For server administrators, the easiest bypass to the problem is to simply ignore time zones, and express all time as UTC. This luxury does not extend well to administrators of Windows networks, however. For dual-booting systems, conflicts with the system RTC often appear, as Windows expects that value to be for local time, though Linux distributions use UTC by default, making the reported time inconsistent when switching between operating systems. (Some workarounds do exist to this problem.) Similarly, timestamp accuracy can degrade when using files during daylight saving switchovers, and between systems that handle time zones and daylight saving in inconsistent ways.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • The European Commission is conducting a public poll through August 16th on whether or not to change the current directive for daylight saving time.
  • Of the 77 localities that observe DST, 28 of them are in the European Union.

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Image: iStockphoto/nito100