How much longer will we continue to change the clocks?
Changing the clocks

How much longer will we continue to change the clocks?

At the end of October, in Spain we put summer time behind us: the clocks go back an hour to adapt to winter time, but where does this custom come from? Why do we continue to do it?

In Spain, the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October are marked in red on the calendar. These are the days when the clocks are changed. Summer time and winter or daylight saving time, both born many decades ago, aimed at taking advantage of sunlight and consuming less energy. But, according to a report by the Institute for Energy Diversification (IDEA), this energy saving only represents 6 euros per person/year. Time has always been a chaotic subject in Spain. Before the 20th century, each province or community carried out their own time changes at their own convenience. Then Greenwich Mean Time was established as the official basis for Spanish time changes. And the first summer time occurred in 1918. But Spanish times have been out of sync since Franco’s time. Specifically, since 1940. Spain started to follow the German time changes as a gesture to be ‘closer’ to Hitler.

The truth is, Spanish clocks should be in time with Portugal, but they aren’t. The fact is that geographically Spain should be governed by London’s time zone. Since 1940, everything that happens in Spain really happens two hours ahead of time with respect to the sun. This is the reason that Spain’s customs are all later: having lunch at 3pm or going to bed at 11 pm. In reality, with respect to the sun, we eat at the same time as other European countries at 1 pm and we go to bed just as early. Spain’s current time zone is CET, Central Europe Time, the same as Vienna, Brussels, Berlin or Amsterdam, but due to its geographical position, it is located in the zone corresponding to Western Europe, as are the United Kingdom and Portugal.

Does everyone change the clocks?

Traditionally, the criteria have changed regarding taking part or not in putting the clocks back or forward. Since 2018, the European Commission has been debating whether to eliminate these time changes in the member states, after 84% of the 4.6 million European citizens who took part in the consultation voted in favour. Now, the problem lies in the fact that time zones remain fixed in each country and this point is where there is rising disagreement. The European Commission itself, which put the proposal for cancelling the time changes on the table back in 2019, went back on its statement indicating that “no rushed change should be applied to the time zones” without all the European citizens knowing “the risks and opportunities that this involves.” Spain, taking into account the official calendar published in the OSG, will continue with European time and will continue to officially change the clocks over the next five years. Therefore, the last change won’t take place until at least March, 2027.   

At the same time, while the debate remains open and unresolved in Europe, the United States Senate has already voted for permanently implanting summer time from November of next year. Up to now, in the North American zones with latitudes closer to the Pole, as occurs in Alaska, residents can go for over 4 months without seeing any light. This is translated into being one of the zones with the highest rates of depression. Figures that are hoped will drop with this new law. And the fact is that, really, not all the countries around the world change their clocks twice a year. It is a very deep-rooted practice in Europe and North America, but it is not popular in India, China or Africa. Indeed, only 40% of the countries in the world change their clocks.

The lyrics of the popular Mexican song stated “reloj, no marques las horas porque voy a enloquecer” (clock, don’t mark the hours because I am going to go mad). And the fact is that beyond the benefits regarding the use (and the bill) for light, another factor is added to changing the clocks: health. This kind of self-imposed jet lag can cause fatigue, somnolence, insomnia, lack of concentration or irritability. 

Did you know that…? 

• There are many countries in the world that don’t change their clocks. In fact, most of Central America, South America, Africa and Asia have no summer/winter time change.

• During the Spanish Civil War there were two different time zones that depended on whether the areas belonged to Republican or Nationalist bands. For this reason, the war ended at different times according to who is explaining the history.

• In 1784, Franklin published an essay titled “Economic project to reduce the cost of light” in which he proposed bringing the clocks forward to take advantage of the morning sun. Although, it is believed that it was later on, in 1895, when the astronomer George Vernon Hudson took over the idea of changing the clocks.

• The first time it was put into practice was April, 1916, in the middle of World War I, to reduce the use of coal during the conflict.

• Russia is the country with most time zones, with a total of 11. In fact, some states do not even follow the international rule of complete hours. There are places where the time difference is 30 or 45 minutes. An example of this is the Indian city of Bangalore.