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Time-zone change in Spain "Madness"

Source: El Pais - Thu 12th Jan 2017
Time-zone change in Spain 'Madness'

As organizations such as the National Commission for Rationalizing Spanish Timetables (ARHOE) ramp up the demand that Spain reverts to its correct time zone, a number of physicists have warned against the potential impact on Spanish society. In fact, they declare that Spain is in the “correct” time zone and changing it would be pure folly.

Professor of Applied Physics from the University of Santiago de Compostela Jorge Mira argues that such a change would only bring problems. “The chaos that would ensue would be very costly,” he says. “And it makes no sense because the Spanish lifestyle will stay the same, whatever the time zone. A time zone is simply the hand of a clock. The sun will still rise and set like it always has.

“Currently people leave work at 6pm but if the time zone was altered, they would effectively be leaving later in the night, so life in general would shift towards nighttime,” he explains. “And if you compensated by going to work one hour earlier, things would be exactly as they are now.”

Mira explains that scientists are filled with panic as they observe how the reasoning behind the demands for change are based on a flat map of the Earth when the planet is round. “You can’t compare the north of the continent, where there are fewer hours of daylight, with the south where there are more,” he says.

Mira refuses to acknowledge that the current time zone was the result of Franco switching Spain’s clocks one hour ahead to be in line with Nazi Germany. According to the physicist, there were several changes of time zone due to wartime issues during the Civil War and the Second World War and it was Charles de Gaulle’s decision to keep the current European time zone after World War II that accounts for Spain being the furthest west of all countries on CET.

Mira also queries the validity of the report by a commission set up for the Study for the Rationalization of Spanish Timetable in 2013 that provides the basis of ARHOE’s argument for change, since it does not include expert scientific opinion that would have put the spanner in the works.

Meanwhile, scientist for the Superior Council for Scientific Research, José Fernández-Albertos insists that it is the sun, not the time zone, that influences lifestyle. “It’s a fact that habits form according to the position of the sun. For example, although the time is officially the same on the east and the west of the peninsula, the social habits are different because the solar time is different,” he says.

Fernández-Albertos also claims that when the sun sets earlier in relation to the official time, people leave work faster. But he agrees with Mira when it comes to comparing Spain with the north of Europe. “It’s a mistake,” he says, “because they have fewer hours of daylight, especially in winter, and the working day is intensive, which favors family time, but in the south of Europe it’s more complicated to keep the working day uninterrupted.”

Fernández-Albertos believes it would make more sense for Spain to compare itself to Japan, US, Italy and Portugal – countries that are in the same position with respect to the sun and which enjoy similar lifestyles.

Forcing a lifestyle change with a change of time zone is unlikely, he says. “Societies adapt to the time zone they’re in. Perhaps, in the long-term, habits such as presenteeism might change or lunch hours might be shortened but it doesn’t alter the fact that we have a lot of daylight hours and we’ll gravitate back to where we were,” he explains, adding that it would be very strange if Spain aligned itself with countries such as Denmark and Norway. “We would be the odd man out. We would be a country with a lot of daylight hours, shoehorning our activities into a very short space of time.”

Doctor of Physics from Seville University, José María Martín Olalla agrees that people adapt to the existing time zone and changing it only changes the number on the clock face. “There are countries such as France, Belgium or Argentina whose time zone is artificial and it doesn’t matter because the Earth keeps turning and midday still happens every 24 hours.”

Olalla suggests that a change of time zone would only benefit people with very specific working hours, such as those with a long break for lunch, which would consequently be shortened. But for those with a continuous workday, it would mean putting back the time they would start and finish work, which would not benefit them at all. He also points out that not everyone can finish work at the same time. Nor, he says, can the level of activity they choose on leaving work be regulated, at least no more than is currently the case, which is “perfectly reasonable”.

“The time zone has nothing to do with gaining more family time; that corresponds to the amount of time people spend at work, on lunch hour or whatever and that time is measured as a duration,” he explains. “But when we speak about time zones, we are speaking about time as a reference, what time the clock says in a given moment, something that is independent of the time used for an activity. They are two different concepts.”

According to the Royal Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, the time zone debate is political and economic but scientifically it is neither here nor there. Meanwhile, Manuel Refueiro, President of the Geological College, says that it is more useful to be aligned with central Europe when it comes to work, though he does point out that time zones are fixed. “They are worked out with coordinates and are completely defined and established.”

Finally, the President of ARHOE, José Luis Casero insists that people go to work and school before they can enjoy a reasonable amount of daylight. And, as his colleague, ARHOE’s General Secretary Ángel Largo is quick to point out, Spain is not in the correct meridian with respect to Greenwich and current habits have changed. “If the sun rose earlier and we ate earlier, we could leave work earlier and that would be a trigger for other change, as well as being better health-wise,” he says.

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