A clockwork Arctic

Weekly Cover | In Alaska, a movement is afoot to drop daylight savings time. Rebellious Iceland never adopted it. But most Northern territories prefer to remain in sync with power centres to the south

Kevin McGwin

Ever since March 8, when North Americans began daylight savings time (turning their clocks ahead), they have been one hour closer to Europe than normal, which does not return to what it calls summertime until this weekend.

For those living at lower latitudes, the semi-annual ritual of adjusting the clocks is, it is argued, a way to save energy by putting people’s active hours more squarely in sun-lit hours. Detractors grumble that fiddling with people’s sleeping and waking hours causes all manner of problems. They also point out that lighting now makes up a smaller portion of energy needs, compared with things like heating, thus eliminating much of the original purpose.

For those living in the North – where there is either an overdose of sunlight or darkness much of the time – the change has less to do with energy than it does with keeping businesses and governments in sync with capitals and commerce hubs.

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In Greenland, the majority of whose population is four hours behind metropolitan Denmark, changing the clock ensures that the two countries’ business days have an overlap of four hours. Taking Greenland off daylight savings time would mean no more adjusting the clocks, but it would also reduce the availability of businessmen and public officials to three hours for half the year.

The importance of remaining in keeping in step with Copenhagen, though more pronounced when Greenland was controlled directly from the Danish capital, has persisted. As an autonomous country, it could decide to eliminate summer time, but lawmakers there have found it prudent to keep the change in place.

Other governments are less eager to maintain the status quo. Alaska’s state senate, for example, voted on March 12 to eliminate daylight savings time in the state. The bill must be passed by the lower legislative chamber in order for it to be presented to the governor to be signed into law.

Alaska businessmen are arguing against such a measure – noting that it would further remove them from key business partners on the west and east coasts for part of the year. Dissenting lawmakers also point to the strain that the extra hour’s difference would place on things like travel and maintaining family ties with out-of-state relations.

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Little could be further from the truth, if the Icelandic experience is a lesson. The country does not change its clocks. At worst, says Ásta Stefánsdottir, an Icelander living in Copenhagen, that requires thinking twice about whether a connection is an extra hour ahead or behind.

Otherwise, the difference is hardly something she notices when doing business or speaking with family. Although she reckons that if the time distance were greater, the extra hour might make a difference, singling out the convenience of the constant four-hour overlap with western Greenland.

Laust Isfeld, the head of American operations for Eimskip, a steamship company, finds the varying time difference between his home in Virginia, on America’s east coast, and the home island poses no problems.

“After a couple of days of adjusting the mind it is business as usual,” he says.

Some, primarily businessmen, and especially those in the airline and tourism industry, do lobby for changing the clock to follow suit with the rest of the world. Even though most voters find the discussion silly, says one journalist, politicians keep the issue alive, with at least one party, Björt framtíð (Bright Future), campaigning actively for adopting daylight savings time.

But Mr Isfeld finds this unlikely.

Firstly there is no economic or psychological benefit, as can be argued for people living at mid latitudes. Secondly, he notes, Icelanders are a unique bunch. “The country was established by rebels, which is maybe the reason we resist.”

Originally published by The Arctic Journal.

The Weekly Cover is The Rasmussen’s main story of the week. These articles will sometimes look ahead at one of the more important or interesting topics of the coming week, or they may provide insight and analysis about a current issue.

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