Let’s keep GMT and lighter mornings

Tonight the clocks go back in the UK as British Summer Time ends. At this time every year, the media is full of stories about why we should stay on BST in the winter (either with or without double summer time in the summer). Usual reasons given are to save energy, and to reduce the number of accidents. This year, however, the claim is that keeping the clocks an hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time could create jobs. To quote from the reports:

The Policy Studies Institute report said £3 billion could be generated each year in the [tourism and leisure] sectors, while fuel consumption in factories would be cut if there was an extra hour of daylight in the winter months.

The flaw in that statement is that there wouldn’t be “an extra hour of daylight”. The only way to increase the number of hours of daylight in the winter is to move to a lower lattitude. Changing the clocks simply moves hours of daylight from one part of the day to another.

Most people have to go to work every weekday morning, and return home in the evening. Over the last couple of weeks, it has already been dark in the morning when people rise to go to work. If the clocks stayed on BST throughout the winter, the sun wouldn’t rise until after 9am in London in the middle of winter. Not only would they have to get up in the dark, most people would arrive at work in the dark too. That could surely increase the number of people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, and it certainly wouldn’t be very good for all those people for whom mornings are already not the most productive part of the day. It could be claimed that the lost productivity due to darker mornings would cost billions.

In the middle of winter, the sun would set in London before 5pm BST anyway. So how are people meant to make use of the evening for additional leisure time in the daylight? Unless they left work early, they wouldn’t be able to. If they are going to work different hours anyway, then the time zone is irrelevant. The tourism industry should realise that keeping the clocks on summer time won’t turn the winter into summer. The reason people don’t want to go out in the winter is because it’s cold and the weather’s bad. As with increasing the number of hours daylight, the solution to this is also to move further south.

The reason that moving the clocks forward in the summer enables daylight saving is because there are plenty of hours’ daylight in the summer to make use of. In the winter, there are only a limited number of hours, and those should be distributed to make the life of the ordinary, working person as comfortable as possible. Darker mornings would hit those in the north of Britain even harder – and that means people in Berwick, Cumbria and even Manchester, not just people in Scotland. Allowing Scotland to have a different time zone will not help people in those other places. The UK may have moved forward an hour during the Second World War, but that can be considered part of the discomfort of living in wartime conditions. We shouldn’t subject the population to that during peacetime!

View over Greenwich Park, click for a larger version and for more photos of GreenwichGreenwich Mean Time represents the correct time zone for our longitude. As they are on European time, France and Spain are in the wrong time zone, yet this doesn’t have the adverse effect on them that it would on the UK: by the time you reach mid-France, there is an extra hour of daylight in mid-winter.

So next week, enjoy the lighter mornings, as the sun shines on the autumn leaves or even the sparkling, frosty cobwebs as you are on your way to work. Who cares if it’s dark when you leave in the evening? It’s too cold to stay outside after work anyway, so look forward to returning to a warm and cosy home with the curtains closed.

17 responses to “Let’s keep GMT and lighter mornings”

  1. Mark Savage

    Couldn’t agree more with your comments, Jonathan. It amuses me that every year, people should kid themselves we can actually cheat the rules of astronomical orbit and “save” daylight. As you say, all that happens when the clocks change is to move daylight from one time of the day to other. I’ve often felt it would be more appropriate to call it DAT- Daylight Adjustment Time- as a generic, though British Summer Time has a nice ring about it. Indeed, it feels particularly comforting to be able to still have “Summer Time” until late October (since the EU unified changeover dates some years ago).
    But now is the time to change. Of course, it’s only a temporary effect for a month or so, but I was getting increasingly depressed by finding it still dark at nearly eight in the morning in West Middlesex. A natural and logical waking time for me seems to be between 7 and 7.30 in the morning and to have the sun up by then is a good incentive. I’m typing this at midnight BST, but it’s nice to know it’s really only 23.00 GMT so I’m not that late to bed.
    Of course, the flip side is that later today, homes will be plunged into darkness by 5.00 p.m. It comes hard at first and does seem very much like an unwelcome, sudden descent into winter. I guess the only way round this would be to break the return to GMT to us gently, perhaps by adjusting our clocks by 12 minutes a day for five weeks, rather than one hour all at once at the end of October! Clearly though, that’s never going to happen, so we’ll just have to live with it, as we’ve managed to do for most of the last 120 years or so, wartime Double Summer Time and the dreadful seventies British Standard Time experiments notwithstanding.

    Look at it another way too. If we didn’t have BST in the summer months, the sun would be rising at about 3.30 in the morning or even earlier, but still setting by no later than 9 or so in the evening wherever one lives. Do people really want to lose out on those long, light, sultry summer evenings? Surely not. The present arrangements are not ideal, sure, but until science finds a way of distributing sunlight to all latitudes in equal quantities year round, why not just live with it, and look forward to the joys of fireworks and festive illumination through til early January? The evenings soon get lighter again then.

  2. Mariotte

    whether it is Gmt or any other time it does not really matter.
    what is of paramount importance is that we keep the same time throughout the year.
    changing time twice a year does not make sense.
    what would we think of using a more ponderous kg to weigh heavy loads and a lighter one in the opposite circumstances.
    and what about a longer meter and a shorter one.
    regarding temperatures what would one think of a different 0 degree in hot and cold countries.
    to address issues of time how would it be workable to have shorter years in your youth and longer ones when you grow older.
    time is a reference for god’s sake and no one should tamper with it.
    let’s choose one and stick with it for ever.
    and if you feel like getting up earlier in summer or later in Winter that should be your decision and not the result of this absurd change from Summer time to Winter time.
    so how can we act now to make our leaders apprehend the reality and abolish the twice a year changes of our time.

  3. Jonathan

    Mariotte: I can sort of agree with your suggestion, but on the other hand, in the summer we have plenty of hours of daylight so it makes sense to move one from the early hours to the evening. The current arrangement is the only way to do this while avoiding five whole months of dark mornings in the winter. (The whole issue of fixed working hours needs addressing for a number of unrelated reasons, not least transport congestion.)

    I suppose if they decided we must have BST in the winter, I’d prefer to keep the same time all year round. However, I still strongly oppose losing GMT. And as for having to change clocks, modern devices should do this for themselves. The EU standardisation of the last Sundays in October and March makes this easier, and clocks can also use the radio time signal for this purpose. In the 21st century, no-one should need to set clocks by hand unless they are antique pieces!

  4. skipper

    You make a well reasoned defence. Even though I don’t agree with it-why was ‘double summer time’ so effective during the war?- I find it vaguely comforting that there are some reasons for accepting what I cannot in any way change.

  5. Dave Brown

    Hello Jonathan

    I have been reading your excellent blog for some time but this is the first time that I have been moved to comment.
    For me the advantages of changing time zone can never compensate for the disruption called. A disruption compounded by the fact that daylight saving is not invoked on the same date worldwide. I don’t give a xxxx what time zone we are in – I adjust my day to make best use of the available daylight.

    Our current working pattern dates from the time when the vast majority of the population worked outdoors and had to take best advantage of the available daylight. But for indoor workers to have to spend the few precious hours of winter daylight indoors is ludicrous. It would make greater sense for the indoor working da to start at noon or to end at noon ensuring that people could enjoy several hours of daylight.

    In the absence of such a radical change I think that we should stay on GMT+1 or GMT+2 all year. The compelling reason for this is one of road safetry, particularly for school children. The statistics do seem to show that travelling on dark evenings are more dangerous than on dark mornings.

    This was confirmed back 1968-71 when we experimented with retaining BST through the winter. The few more deaths occurring in the morning were substantially outweighed by the reduction in evening deaths. Unfortunately the deaths in the morning were of real children with greiving families to lobby parliament; whereas the lifes saved in the evenings were only statistics with no one to celebrate tham. So the experiment was stopped and is unlikely to be reinstated

  6. Nigel

    We could have the best of both worlds – keep GMT in winter with more light in the mornings & European time in summer giving extended daylight in the evenings.

    OK, so it means moving the clocks two hours forward & back each year, but think of those wasted hours of daylight in the summer at 4-5 am which would become useful in the evenings, not to mention the energy saved.


  7. vivienne

    I agree with lighter mornings in winter…i am up at 6am in winter and driving to work is not very nice so yes please i want European time in summer….oh what joy to have light mornings….


  8. Gary Hardman

    Light mornings when driving in an easterly direction…. Sun in your eyes, obscuring the view of the nutter travelling on the wrong side of the road towards you…. The ‘Double Summertime light saving brigade’ are only interested in the financial benefits of more daylight in the evening. IMHO, leave the bloody clocks at GMT.

  9. Paul

    Changing the clocks only shifts around the time that the sun rises – it does not changes how much day light there is. Anybody that thinks it does, is just kidding themselves.

    Keep GMT year round.

  10. Paul Newbold

    Yes, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the natural and real time of the British Isles – any advancing of clocks is purely false and a trick to get us up earlier in the mornings, something we can do if we wish to without resorting to such measures.

    I am probably one of the very few in the country who does not actually go onto BST at all! I have been on GMT continuously since 1995 while in the UK. It is actually quite easy to do and not that confusing after a while. You just have to remember to subtract one hour from all published times, which includes such things as timetables, work-times, appointments and TV and radio schedules. One gets very used to it and, funnily enough, problems can arise when BST finishes in October and you have to remember not to do this conversion, otherwise you are an hour early for everything!

    When I go abroad I use their standard natural time. So in France I stay on GMT, and have to subtract two hours during the summer months from published times. When I go to Switzerland or Italy I put my time forward one hour to their natural time (they are in the next time zone eastwards from GMT) and in the summer months I have to subtract one hour from their published times, just like I do in the UK.

    TV services like the ‘+ 1’ versions of ITV, Channel 4 & 5 etc. are very useful during BST as you can still watch programmes at their ‘normal’ times – I only wish there was a BBC ‘+ 1’ service too!

    I have written a little booklet about year-round GMT which goes more into this subject, including a brief history of BST (we’ve only had BST for less than a century – before that everyone lived quite happily on the natural time…).

    -Meanwhile, dare to do the unthinkable. Keep your time – even if only at home – on GMT the whole year round. There’s a very good chance to start doing this in one day’s time (if you are reading this in late March), but even so it’s never too late to start!

    Paul Newbold

  11. Paul Miller

    Well I am now in my third year of staying with BST all year (starting in 2012). It is interesting that this was the arrangement tried in 1968-71 – and also interesting from Dave Brown’s that part of the reason for its failure was that people can’t assess the hidden benefits against the visible costs accruing elsewhere (one of the iron rules in politics?)

    Anyway, staying with BST rather than GMT means you only go off the national timekeeping grid for 5 months of the year rather than 7 months, so it’s easier to do. I don’t have to ‘catch up’ with anyone either since I’m always getting up early – and so am an hour ‘ahead’ in Winter. By getting up early and going to bed early I can make the most of Winter evening daylight, although since the change to GMT this year (2014) has coincided with much less sunshine than October I’ve noticed myself getting ‘blue’ for the first time. (But think how much worse it would be Otherwise)

  12. Mark Trombley

    How about getting the best of both worlds…

    Keep the lighter morning in winter by staying on GMT but…

    Move the clock TWO hours ahead in Summer so we get the benefit of the longer days later into the evening…

    It’s a Win-Win…

  13. Nigel

    I agree. We could have the best of both worlds – keep GMT in winter with more light in the mornings & European time in summer giving extended daylight in the evenings.

    OK, so it means moving the clocks two hours forward & back each year, but think of those wasted hours of daylight in the summer at 4-5 am which would become useful in the evenings, not to mention the energy saved.


  14. Remi Acien

    For Scotland GMT all year round.Yes.

  15. Remi Acien

    Yes , for Scotland this will be GMT.

  16. Alexa

    Greenwich Mean Time should be kept all year round for a number of reasons. It is the natural time for this country and does not upset sleeping patterns when the hour is changed forward in the springtime. This is important for everyone and particularly crucial for children and young people.
    In the past, farmers needed as many hours of daylight as they could get, with millions of workers toiling away from dawn to dusk, With GMT, in the summer months, it is still light past 10pm and, if farmers need to work late because of weather conditions, they have powerful machines, with powerful lights.

  17. Jonathan Rawle

    I would rather keep the current arrangements, to move an hour of the very early morning sunlight to the evening in the summer, while keeping GMT and a sensible balance between light mornings and afternoons in the winter. However, if we have to adhere to the EU’s decision to scrap DST, I would prefer to stay on GMT rather than BST.

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