Every year as the final quarter approaches, many of us marvel and grumble about how early the place begins to get dark. On the whole, as a people we do not have much of a problem with going to work early; the concern lies in getting home before the place gets dark, and there are many reasons why that is so. Chief among these concerns is access to public transport and the general issue of public security.
Despite the natural, cyclical changes in sunrise and sunset, our working time and other daily routines remain fixed throughout the year. However, these natural changes in time, and their impact on persons’ biological clocks, energy level, mood and productivity are significant. Maybe, it is time we explored how a policy-approach can be taken to bring our routines in sync with seasonal changes.
The younger generation may not know this, but before the 1990s our clocks were set one hour earlier than they are now; we went off to school and work an hour earlier than we do now. The government afterwards changed it to what it is now, so that we have the same time as the rest of the Eastern Caribbean.
The concept of daylight saving has been around since the late 1890s and is currently in use in every continent. In fact, most of the world, including tropical countries, have at some time during the past one hundred years adopted the practice of seasonally adjusting their clocks to let the period of 6 am-6 pm fit snugly into the natural daylight period. There are many things to be gained at the individual, organizational and national levels when the time is adjusted to take advantage of the natural daylight. In North America, this is done mainly to cut back on artificial lighting and energy use, to give people more opportunities to pursue relaxation, run errands and shop, and even to reduce the risk of travelling in the dark.
In Guyana, when we started our workday an hour earlier, we had an extra hour of daylight left in the evening that persons were encouraged to use for the purpose of tending their kitchen gardens and participating in social and communal activities. Back then, there was no television or Internet to rush home to; you had work waiting for you in the garden, shop or tending to livestock. As schoolchildren, it meant getting home early and putting in an hour’s study or completing the day’s homework, often before the dreaded blackout came on.
Our economy back then was more heavily dependent upon agriculture than it is now, and getting to the farm, rice fields or estates’ backdam early meant completing the hardest part of the work before the sun started to beat down on your back.
There are many reasons why we may want to move back to daylight saving. But first, let us examine the seasonal changes in sunrise, sunset and daylight hours that form the basis of this argument. The 2015 sunrise/sunset calendar for Georgetown shows that there are significant variations in the times for sunrise and sunset over the year, as is summarized below.
Earliest Sunrise 5.36 am on June 1 Difference = 35 minutes
Latest Sunrise 6.11 am on January 31
Earliest Sunset 5.32 pm on November 11 Difference = 41 minutes
Latest Sunset 6.13 pm on July 11
The complete data set shows that from September 1 right up to January 31 (in the following year) the sun sets well before what is now 6 pm. Similarly, the data show that throughout this period, the sun rises well before 6 am, and that the length of the day is below 12 hours for each day, with the shortest day occurring around December 31.
The highest daily average temperatures occur between the months of September and November, a very critical period when the bulk of the annual work is done in our agriculture sector.
The environment in general heats up much more quickly and earlier during this period; by 9.30 am it is already stiflingly hot and stays that way well into the afternoon. Climate change will actually magnify the impact of the normal changes that we were accustomed to. In other words, when it is actually 30C in the shade it will feel more like a roasting 36 or 38 degrees out in the open. Should you not want to avoid some of this sweltering heat and harmful UV rays?
Persons who are self-employed in agricultural or other forms of strenuous work, habitually adjust their working day to make maximum use of the cool morning and evening periods, without having to pay much attention to the working times of other people. However, workers employed by large agricultural operations, such as GuySuCo or other big businesses that have standardized working hours, irrespective of the seasonal changes, are all affected adversely. Other large groups of persons are also affected, with our schoolchildren probably being affected the most.
There are many possible benefits that we can think of, if we made seasonal time adjustments a norm for our country. We can save on electricity if we got home earlier and got our chores completed before night sets in. Working adults attending evening classes at the Government Technical Institute or the University of Guyana would benefit from maybe an hour more of sunlight for studies during the dark half of the year. Banking and shopping hours can be adjusted to make better use of the daylight time, and so on.
What prevents us from going forward with seasonally changing our time? Protocols governing international travel and wire transactions are two possible areas that can be affected, but certainly we can learn from other countries which have found ways of getting around these issues. Legislative intervention will also be needed to effect these changes.
But what magnitude of change can we consider? All things considered, we may want to advance our clocks by one hour during the period September 1st to January 31st (five months) and retain the rest of the year as it is now. This means that in the mornings what is now a very bright 6 am will actually become 7 am, and a dusky 5 pm will be 6 pm, allowing most to be home before it is truly dark.