[Viewpoint] Daylight savings costlier than you think

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[Viewpoint] Daylight savings costlier than you think

A recent survey showed that over 61 percent of working people were opposed to resuming daylight savings time, while 30 percent consented to a plan the government is considering implementing in April or May next year.

The reasons for the objections sound legitimate. The Korean government put into action “summer time,” adjusting the clocks to make the most of the daylight during the longer days of summer, for a decade starting in 1948 and for a brief period in 1987, but the public was never fully behind the idea from the start, for reasons similar to those expressed in the recent survey.

The advocates for the resumption of the system argue that 86 countries around the world, including all the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development except South Korea and Japan, practice the system.

They further claim that the use of summertime daylight can save energy used for lighting homes and cities and keeping people cool during hot weather. They also point to the expected effects of the system, scattering rush hours and reducing traffic accidents, which could save up to an estimated 90 billion won ($72.3 million) each year. It is estimated that national electricity bills could be cut by 13 to 25 percent annually and that the quality of life could improve as after-hours daylight in summer would be utilized for self-advancement, exercise and sports, or be spent with friends and family. They estimate that national production could rise by 862.8 billion won and domestic consumption could see a 1.3 trillion won hike.

On the flip side, the proponents of “summer time” have not estimated the costs that would be incurred from practicing the system and giving up the present one. Confusion large and small would be inevitable both domestically and internationally in changing clocks two times a year. Computer programs would have to be readjusted, and public awareness would not be achieved without cost.

Daylight savings is not a global standard, though it is practiced by a majority of advanced nations. It may be suitable for countries or regions that spread across different time zones. Korea is extended from Soheuksan Island to Dokdo and encircled by two countries - China and Japan - that happen to also use the fixed time system. Korean Standard Time is fixed to Tokyo time, which is one hour earlier than Beijing time.

If daylight savings time is introduced, both blue collar and white collar employees would perform their daily duties in an “artificial environment,” and it would take months to adjust their biological clock to the artificial time twice a year.

Consequently, the costs throughout the year would be even greater than the money saved during summer. The results of the survey show that a majority of people would work overtime in the summer if daylight savings was implemented. They would be worried that the bottom line would practically be an increase in working hours, considering the eccentric Korean working culture of reluctance to leave the office while the sun shines or before their boss has gone home.

Most of the time, their workload would not let them leave during official office hours, so there would not be leisure time for them to enjoy. In addition, labor unions are apprehensive about the exacerbation of current working conditions to the effect that their members might end up staying in the office longer even than now. Korean people feel comfortable with the fixed time system because their biorhythms are set for the natural change in daylight and will not respond well to artificial changes in time. They get up earlier in summer and go to bed earlier in winter. This habit was shown in 1948-57 and 1987-88 as well as in the recent survey. Similar discussions were attempted but soon fizzled out in 1997 and 2007.

Many public and private agencies in South Korea already practice a flexible timetable in response to the government’s “green management for low-carbon green growth.” They start business at 8 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Instead of moving the clocks and watches of all the citizens back and forth twice a year, both public and private sectors will be able to save more daylight by working one hour more in summer and one fewer hour in winter, namely from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from April to September and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to March. The full-scale enforcement of these business hours is the right answer to the quest for daylight saving. The government’s duty is to improve citizens’ lives, not to disturb their lifestyle twice a year only to impose additional inconveniences or even physical disturbances. It needs to enhance the quality of life, not to make things more complicated and cumbersome.

Comparing costs with effects, the overall enforcement of the new work schedule is supposed to trump the reinstatement of a daylight savings system. This is a way to save not only energy but also the costs resulting from the change in time twice each year. Simply by lengthening our working time for one hour in summer and shortening it for one hour in winter we can save more energy and money as well as accomplish genuine “low-carbon green growth” and slow living, thereby enhancing quality of our life.

*The writer is a professor emeritus at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

by Kim Jae-bum
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