PoliticsApril 4, 2019

End this madness: why we should stop turning our clocks back for the winter


New Zealand’s insistence on changing its clocks twice a year doesn’t make sense, and it needs to stop, argues Hayden Donnell.

This Sunday morning, New Zealanders will dutifully carry out a great collective act of self-destruction. As is tradition, we will ensure every clock in the country goes back an hour at 2am, from our automatically updating phones to the Auckland Town Hall clock that doubles as a huge bee palace. In doing so, we will have needlessly ruined both Time and Daylight yet again.

Why are we doing this to ourselves? It doesn’t have to be this way. European Parliament representatives recently voted by an overwhelming majority to direct countries to adopt either permanent summertime – Daylight Saving Time in New Zealand – or permanent wintertime. They were criticised as aspiring “Time Lords” over the move by British Tory representatives, whose party is currently engaged in a protracted and passionate mission to make Brexit worse. New Zealand should always do the opposite of whatever British Conservatives are doing. We must follow Europe, abolish our nonsensical and disruptive biannual time adjustments, and keep our country on summertime year-round.

The benefit of Daylight Saving Time is obvious: it maximises the best part of the day at the expense of the worst. Its start date, September 30, marks the unofficial launch of barbecue season; of wearing togs sometimes and going outside to do things. For the low cost of an hour of daylight when most of us are sleeping anyway, people can claw back some of the sunshine their dayjob has stolen from them. They can get home, drink a beer, and enjoy their evening.

The argument for ending Daylight Saving Time on April 7 is that if we don’t, sunrise arrives too late during winter. On our shortest day, June 22, the sun rises around 7.30am. Keeping summertime in place would shift that to 8.30am. That would upset farmers, who don’t like to milk their cows in the dark, and arguably disrupt the routine of small children whose sleep is guided by daylight.

With all due respect, who cares? Why are we all suffering for the sake of some sensitive cows? Why does it matter if the mornings are darker during winter? Mornings are meant to be dark. They’re born in Satan’s belly; infused with the nightmares of the night before. Our re-entry into the waking world is almost uniformly awful, informed by a concoction of physical discomfort and a dawning remembering of our disappointments. Some people, including Spinoff boss Duncan Greive, will tell you they like mornings. Those people are lying to themselves in order to deal with the horrors of their reality. Mornings are terrible. Darkness is their natural accompaniment.

Sunrises, on the other hand, are allegedly beautiful. Most of us wouldn’t know. Like a Near Death Experience, sunrises are a beauty only available to us in the most harrowing of circumstances. Moving sunrise to 8.33am in the shortest winter days would allow more New Zealanders to appreciate their majesty. They would be an early glimmer of hope – a signal that the work day you’re just embarking on will eventually end, and summer will one day arrive.

Instead of that, we have a situation where many people arrive at work in barely lifted darkness and return home again in the descending black. The cows may be calmer, but in June many of us are fighting off a mixture of Seasonal Affective Disorder and vitamin D deficiency.

The truth is all the arguments for keeping Daylight Saving Time during summer also apply to winter. Maybe we won’t be able to have barbecues at the beach if we keep our clocks an hour forward, but we’ll at least be able to sip wine in the kitchen while we watch the sun set behind the neighbours’ hedge. As a bonus our circadian rhythms will go unmolested.

In 2007, New Zealand introduced a three-week extension to Daylight Saving Time. It was a move championed by United Future leader Peter Dunne, and will go down as perhaps his greatest political achievement. But it didn’t go far enough. Just as the Civil Union Bill 2004 eventually gave way to the full glory of legal gay marriage, the Time Act 1974 needs to be amended to emphasise New Zealand’s year-round commitment to keeping Daylight Saving.

We shouldn’t need to make our winters a little worse for the sake of some jittery cows. We should instead act to create a better New Zealand: a New Zealand where future generations don’t know what Jon Toogood was going on about when he sang “put your clock back for the winter” on ‘Home Again’; where they won’t have even heard the words Daylight Saving Time.

Instead they’ll just call it time.

Keep going!