Changing times in the Europe

Although our perception of time is fluid, our body and mind vibrate according to a certain rhythm: the Circadian rhythm. Our Circadian rhythm regulates functions like body temperature, feeling active , and the secretion of specific hormones. We see this rhythm – our internal clock – in all living creatures on the planet. It consists of a cycle of 24+ hours, that is determined by the cycles of light and dark.

Our internal clock is thus determined by sunset and sunrise. This means that our internal clock adapts to the change of seasons. A minor adaption for those that live close to the equator, but an extreme fluctuation for those that live most distant from the tropical zone.

The Circadian rhythm is slightly different for every person: this is why some people are more active in the morning, while others are more night people.

Circadian rhythm in sync with clock time

Ideally external clock time would harmonise with our internal clock. We wake up refreshed at dawn, and we go out to work while we feel active. Finally we wind down at sun set to enjoy some peaceful rest before going to sleep.

Biblical and Ancient Egyptian time measurement

Photo by AussieActive on Unsplash

In the olden days, daytime was measured between sunset and sunrise. Every day was divided into twelve hours, and so was the night. Every day started at sunrise, and every night started after dusk. This system must have been a blessing for our Circadian rhythm. Our body functions were completely aligned with our daily tasks and our rest periods.

Of course on our latitude it would mean that daytime hours in summer would be much longer then in winter. Would that be a problem? On the contrary: we would probably all be much more productive, happier and healthier when we would live in alignment with our Circadian flow.

Another point of attention is the time differences all over the world. Wouldn’t that be confusing? No! With modern computer science it’s quite easy to make a programme to calculate clock hours for any place at earth: we just need the coördinates, and the time of sun set and sun rise for this spot. We build this function in Google maps or in any other GPS system or watch – et voilá: we can see how late it is all over the globe.

Advantages of this classical system:

  • We can implement the same system all over the world.
  • Every one can now enjoy the advantages of their internal clock being completely in sync with external clock time.

The implementation of time zones

Centuries long the time has been measured by sundials. The sun was on its highest point at noon (mid-day). Just like the example above, this system resulted in different times at different places. At that time, people didn’t have any means to know what time it was on other locations. This is no problem when your activities occur mainly locally.

When you have to catch a train, it does pose a problem. The train companies needed a set time to make time tables for planning their journeys. It was the technical revolution that demanded standard times as an economic necessity. Therefore economic units like countries were given the same standard time. But what was standard time?

In 1879 the Scottish born Sir Sandford Fleming proposed the worldwide system of time zones. The reference point was set on Greenwich, UK. We refer to this so called 0-meridian as GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) or UTC (Universal Time Coordinated).

Standard time could now be decided for a whole region, by using this system. The Netherlands obviously chose for UTC, since we are located in the same geographical area as Greenwich. When we were invaded by the Germans in 1940, German time was enforced upon the Netherlands. Since then, UTC+1 became our standard time. After WW2, the Dutch government failed to correct this, so that we’ve been living in the wrong time zone since.

Time zones in the European Union

We have three time zones in Europe: Western European time (UTC), Middle European time (UTC+1) and Eastern European time (UTC+2).

The UK, the only Western European country that is in the right time zone, will leave our union soon. The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain are all in the wrong zone. Their right time zone should be UTC.

Summer and winter time.

Only a white man would believe that you have a longer blanket after cutting a piece from the top of the blanket, and sewing it onto the bottom.
Anonymous tribal chief

A long time it has been said that summer time would save energy. This has never been proved. It can savely been said that the energy we save on one hand (lights), we use more on the other hand (computers, air-conditiong etc.)

The list of disadvantages of summer time is long. I remember myself as a kid on a warm summer night, sitting at a fire in the open. I was watching the stars with my parents and siblings. No one from the generations after me in the Netherlands will probably know this magical experience: in summer it is still light at 23.00! People who enjoy summer – and who doesn’t? – say that they like to sit at a terrace late at night. People, we can also sit on a terrace when it’s dark. You will love it!

In 2019 the clock change will be abolished in the European Union. We can now choose our own standard time for the whole year and end the farce that our internal time is hours behind external clock time. On this map you can see that some places in France and Spain are even more then 2,5 hours off during summertime (=UTC+2). All Western countries in the UTC zone have to adapt during daylight savings to Eastern European time. Luckily this farce will end soon.

What standard time to choose for your country?

Next year we will set our clocks to the right time. Personally I would like to abandon the time zone system completely, and adapt the classical time system again. The disadvantages we encountered 200 years ago, can now be easily solved with big data: GPS and astronomical data.

The second best system is to keep to the time zone system, but move to the right time zone;. This will be a big win for the people in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain.

The three different time zones and the effects on the Netherlands, are clearly explained in this video of Arjen Lubach (Dutch)

Roelien Reinders