Times are Changing—or Not

Written by Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser

Just when you have adjusted your daily rhythm to the Daylight Savings Time in your respective Time Zone, there comes a new proposal to do away with time zones altogether.

As the Washington Post reports, there are some thinkers that want you to get up “at midnight” rather than in the morning hours to do your day’s work. Well, I’ve exaggerated a bit. In truth, you would still get up when the sun rises but, depending on where you live, it could be any time of the day on your clock. You might rightly ask:

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What’s that crazy Idea all about?

This silly idea is to have the whole world use clocks set not to any local (day/night-based) setting but to ONE ONLY setting all around the world. According to the proponents of that nonsense, the whole world would just have one time zone only, the “universal time zone.” The minds behind that idea think it would be good, perhaps even necessary, to spur global trade in these days of global markets and worldwide internet connectedness.

This idea has a basic flaw by interpreting (the currently used) time zones as a kind of arbitrary convention of no relevance to or basis in nature and that is utterly wrong.

There are 24 time zones in the world, even if some may not be in common use. The reason for their existence is that the earth turns, once around its axis in 24 hours. With that angle covering 360 degrees of arc, each time zone covers 360/24 = 15 degrees of longitudinal arc and that amount of rotational movement, therefore, represents one hour of time.

Time Zones

What’s neat about that is that everyone can get up, go to work and come home at roughly the same local (clock) time. It doesn’t matter whether you are in New York, London, Moscow, Beijing, or anywhere else in the world, at the same latitude on the globe, daylight starts more or less at the same (local clock) time for everyone.

Of course, there are small variations in the time zones when it comes to political, societal, or geographical areas that like to operate on the same time schedule. As a consequence, the time zone borders are locally adjusted to reflect such desires rather than following the exact meridians of longitude every 15 degrees of arc. Wikipedia has a detailed map showing the various standard time zones in use around the world.

While most areas use full one-hour intervals from one time zone to the next, there are actually at least two entities on the globe that use a half-hour offset instead of a full hour. It’s the people’s prerogative to do so.

Actually, that is not at all that extraordinary as every ship’s captain can set the ship’s time to whatever is desired. A great example of that is coming with the “Advanced Piloting” course of the U.S. Coast Guard and its Canadian equivalent the Can. Power and Sail Squadron. If I remember correctly (from decades ago), a test question in that course was something like “When will Christmas dinner be served, in Universal Time?” on a ship sailing crossing the International Date Line and using its own “time zone”.

Coordinated Universal Time

You’ll have noticed another term I just mentioned: Coordinated Universal Time, abbreviated as UTC, (not CUT). That is the time at the 0¬∞ meridian of longitude, going through Greenwich, England. UTC is for most purposes the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In aviation and marine parlance, UTC is also known as “Zulu Time,” abbreviated as “z” (for the zero meridian), like in “00z” meaning midnight at Greenwich.

UTC is the time your computer is set to (subject to the right time zone adjustment) and can also be obtained via radio signals, like from the U.S. National Bureau of Standards and Technology at Fort Collins, CO at several frequencies in the low MHz band.  Of course, there are also many other stations all over the world that continuously send out time signals at other radio frequencies which you may be able to pick up in the 25-160 kHz and 2-25 MHz ranges.

You see, there is already a universal time that is used for all kinds of time related purposes. But that does not eliminate the need to have time zones that are based on the local “time of day” as determined by the sun. If the whole world were using the identical time zone and consequently an identical time setting of your clock, you still would need to know whether it was convenient for your friend or business contact to be called at, say mid-afternoon your local (sun-)time while he or she may be sound asleep half way around the world.

As far as I know, most people prefer to sleep at night and be up during daylight, regardless of what time it may be on the clock. That’s why knowledge of the different time zones (and any adjustments for daylight savings times) will be more important than ever, especially with the globalisation of commerce and travel. Using just one time for the entire world would not help at all, just the opposite.

Unless the globe stopped rotating around its pole to pole axis, let me say in variation of an old adage:

Time is of the essence (hurry up!) and so are local time-of-day and time zone notations, more than ever!

Read more at canadafreepress.com