One Time Zone for the World?

An astrophysicist and an economist want to fix our clocks and our calendars

Could we ever have just one time zone?
Could we ever have just one time zone? Image courtesy of Flickr user The Stakhanovite Twins

As I sit down to write this post, it is 4:03 p.m. on Thursday, March 15. I’m about ready for my afternoon snack. The sun is already low in the sky. Soon, the workday will be over. I’m in Brooklyn, New York. Elsewhere, of course, it’s earlier or later, and people are doing other things. Australians might be eating breakfast or taking their morning shower. Californians are probably having lunch.

Two Johns Hopkins professors think they have come up with a more rational way to run the planet. Astrophysicist Richard Conn Henry and economist Steve Hanke argue that we should all adopt Greenwich Mean Time, also known as Universal Time. That would make it the same time everywhere, regardless of the sun’s position in the sky. So rather than writing at 4:03 p.m., I’d be writing at 20:03. Then I’d have dinner at 23:30, watch a little TV, and hit the sack around, oh, 3:00. When I awoke, it would be 11:00—not just in Brooklyn, but everywhere. “Everyone would know exactly what time it is everywhere, at every moment,” the academics write in the January issue of Globe Asia, which they say would facilitate conference calls and business transactions.

Some countries have already moved toward fewer time zones. Since 1949, China has had only a single time zone even though geographically the country spans five. In 2010, Russia abolished two of its time zones, dropping the number from 11 to nine. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has suggested he may prune more zones in the future. But jumping from 24 time zones to one would be a much larger leap. On some islands in the Pacific, the date would change with the sun high in the sky. People would wake up on Tuesday and go to bed on Wednesday.

Henry and Hanke also want to do away with the standard Gregorian calendar, which many countries have been using since the late 1500s. Under the new Henry-Hanke calendar, March 15—or any other day, for that matter—falls on the same day of the week, year in and year out. My birthday will always be on Wednesday. “Think about how much time and effort are expended each year in redesigning the calendar of every single organization in the world and it becomes obvious that our calendar would make life much simpler and would have noteworthy benefits,” Henry said in a press release. The pair also argue that a more logical calendar would be a boon to business. In the new calendar, every quarter has exactly the same number of days, making financial calculations simpler.

Every calendar has one major challenge that it must overcome: Each Earth year is a little more than 365 days—it lasts 365.2422 days, to be exact. The Gregorian calendar makes up for additional hours by adding a leap day at the end of February roughly every four years. The Henry-Hanke calendar adds an extra week at the end of December every five or six years. This extra week would constitute its own mini-month.

Henry and Hanke emphasize the many benefits of adopting their calendar and Universal Time, but I wonder if they’ve thought about some of the drawbacks. For example, Dolly Parton’s hit song “9 to 5” would no longer be relevant. The new office workday, at least in Brooklyn, would start at 14 and end at 22. Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it?

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