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12:29pm on Sunday, 28th March, 2010:

Time and Time Again


We put the clocks forward this morning, and are now on BST rather than GMT.

Every year when we put the clocks forward or back there are calls for the UK to fall in line with continental Europe. It's one of those drip-drip-drip things that you just know will eventually get done. This time round, it seems that the largest political parties in the UK are actually up for it.

This is one of those discusions that is conducted entirely in terms of proxies, a bit like fox hunting. People give all manner of reasons why we should or shouldn't kill iddle foxies without ever facing the real issue: some people get fun from killing animals, and some people don't like the fact that other people get fun from killing animals. With clocks, we get all these arguments about the safety of our children and the milking of cows and the benefits of tourism and the reduced use of electricity, all of which are skirting around the real issue: businesses and politicians would find it slightly more conventient to be in the same time zone as central Europe.

Scientifically speaking, 12 noon is where the sun is at its highest in the sky. Because time zones around the world are calibrated from the time in Greenwich, this means that if we here in the UK think it would be a great idea to go ahead an hour for road safety reasons or whatever, well, so should every other country at a similar latitude in the middle of a time zone. Are there calls in Germany to switch to CET+1, though? Or in places that use CET which are further East or North than Germany, such as Poland and Sweden? Well no, there aren't. This is because those argument make little sense. The real (but rarely stated) reason is that it would help business and political connections with Europe, but that's not sufficiently powerful to pull any weight so people look for other reasons instead. If it turned out that we really did save on power generation by moving the clocks forward an hour permanently, the whole globe would move forward an hour as soon as they saw the benefits, and then we'd be in no better position than we were before with regards to being in the same time zone as Europe. It's a consequence of geography.

As an experiment, the UK stayed on GMT+1 for the whole year between 1968 and 1971. I remember walking to school in the middle of December when the sun was not yet risen: I was not at all happy about it. People always talk about the light when they discuss a change of time zones, but they neglect to consider that the sun gives off heat. An hour of sunlight can mean the difference between -3 degrees and 3 degrees. Fewer people had cars in 1968 so they had to endure it; these days, they'd be straight to the 4x4 — not good for fuel use or accident rates.

This is something that annoys me so much that I felt sure I must have blogged about it before, but if I have then I couldn't find it from a search...

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).