28 December 2007

Daylight Messing Time

As you should know already, starting next Sunday (December 30) our most wise government has decreed that clocks' time will be advanced one hour in order to (supposedly) save energy. For those not acquainted with DST in Argentina, here's a brief survey.

First of all, most of Argentina is geographically located within time zone GMT−4 (minus four),
that is, four hours behind the Greenwich meridian. Until 1972, it was customary to advance clocks in spring, taking national time to time zone GMT−3, but then somehow somebody forgot to turn the clocks back again after the end of summer, so we were stuck at GMT−3 for good. After that, as unstable governments with incoherent energy policies came and went, DST was applied occasionally, taking the country (or parts thereof) to GMT−2 during the summer. In 2001, President Fernando de la Rúa vetoed a law that attempted to take us back to GMT−4 (with the option of going DST, I suppose, to GMT−3).

Now GMT−3 (our current time zone) is already one hour ahead of our "proper" geographical zone, so GMT−2 is ridiculously advanced. It's the time zone of the Azores islands, located in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean (think 1,200 miles east of Labrador, Canada). Right now, just past the solstice, there's quite a lot of daylight at 8 PM, and it's still a faint dusk at 9 PM, in the latitude of Rosario, which is only 300 km north of Buenos Aires and almost at the same longitude. With this change to GMT−2, even in late February night won't fall until 8:30 PM (my guess), which is certainly too much.

Besides that, Buenos Aires and Rosario are on the eastern region of Argentina. The western parts of the country should be on the same time zone as Chile (GMT−4, or GMT−3 during DST). When I was in Mendoza last January, even though I objectively knew what to expect, I was a bit disoriented for a couple of days when I noticed that days seemed longer. Indeed, there was plenty of daylight to go by even at 9 PM. I tend to have dinner early for the Argentine norm (generally around 8:30 PM), but in Mendoza that felt outrageously early. Mendoza is at the same latitude as Rosario, but it's 8 degrees of longitude west of it, so if GMT−3 is a stretch for Rosario, it's completely off for Mendoza, and of course for every other city in the west of Argentina.

Worst of all, as you go south towards extreme latitudes, the difference in daylight hours between seasons becomes extreme too: in the summer the sun rises much earlier and sets much later than in the winter. Add a misfit DST scheme to that, and you can expect having the sun shining in its full sunset splendour at 10 PM over northern Patagonia. I'm heading there, so I feel I'm an interested party.

One alternative to this approach would be to employ DST by regions. The central-eastern part of Argentina might need it, but the rest probably doesn't. This, however, would've required careful consideration, planning and coordination among several districts, which was of course utterly impossible, with local governments too busy using public funds and political machines for their political campaigns and all. And why might the national government have anyone sit down and discuss the pros and cons of DST, if the Presidenta can order our representatives in Congress to have the DST law passed in one day?

It's nonetheless better this way, I think, considering what happens when you let the provinces free to do as they choose. I still remember a few years ago, when Santa Fe advanced the clock and Buenos Aires didn't (or was it the other way round?) and the porteño TV programs we get in our local channels were all off by one hour. (TV wouldn't be a problem for me nowadays, being such unwatchable crap.)

There's no clear evidence that DST will help save power by any significant amount, and it's a good guess that it will create additional problems. I wonder, did anyone responsible for the time change take a few days to get acquainted with the scientific (non-)basis for DST? Probably not. Christmas is just past, the New Year is coming, who wants to read up on fact-based studies? Let us vote and be merry, for tomorrow we die!


  1. There’s an energy crisis in Argentina? Next, we’ll be hearing that there’s an inflation problem!

    One major issue that hasn’t been rectified (at least of this morning) is that international airline schedules haven’t been updated to reflect the upcoming time change. I suspect there are going to be many unhappy travelers this peak Argentine travel season. However, what can you expect when a government gives just a few days notice of a major change such as this that affects international relations?

    If the government were serious about energy conservation, they could have implemented several strategies years ago. How about changing the building code so that new residential construction is more energy efficient (double-glazed windows, and minimum insulation standards)? Or encourage the use of fluorescent lights by subsidizing them, rather than imposing punitive import taxes.


  2. I forgot to note that the energy saving plan includes distributing millions of fluorescent lights to the public, especially the poor, in exchange for used incandescent bulbs. The main problem here is that poor people will most likely resell the highly priced fluorescent lights they'll get, because a lot of them don't pay for their power - they simply take it directly from the lines.

    Governments in Argentina simply don't plan ahead. It's not because we always have these boom-bust economic cycles; that's more an effect than a cause. It's because our politicians are plainly uneducated, and every two years there's an election, and one year before an election they drop everything to concentrate on the campaign. Did you know the houses of Congress have barely gathered a few times in 2007?


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