The Metric System

OK. I’m in a house with no furnishings, and I’m watching the limits of the current internet TV revolution (youtube, CNN live, Hulu, etc). I was watching a piece from CNN on the Indian probe that is launching to map the moon. No big deal.

After about 3 minutes, they go to the weather. So a front is moving through, and it’ll be about 38F Wednesday night. All right! Winter is on its way! Soon after the loacl forecast, they go to world weather. 19C in Europe, 22C in India, 9C in southern Australia. Huh? Oh yeah…that’s right, the U.S. and 2 other countries have not gone to the metric system for temperature and distance. That got me on a few-hour-long search for everything metric.

Supposedly, in the 80s, the U.S. decided it was going to convert to the metric system. They contacted 4 states and asked them (with government funding) to change their speedlimit signs and distance markers to reflect both mph and kph (miles/kilometers.) They did. Then broadcasting stations added Celsius to their Fahrenheit temperatures. But folks started complaining that the screen was too busy, so the weather stations removed it. Then the DOT didn’t go anywhere with metric mileage, so those 4 states removed it from their signs. The two major units of measurement that we use daily, and it failed.

Before then, several other countries decided on a “cold-turkey” approach and gave a two- or three-year period to change over. For Canada, on 1 April 1975, Fahrenheit temperatures were replaced by Celsius. In September 1975 rain started to fall in millimetres and snow in centimetres. From 1 April 1976, wind speed, visibility, and atmospheric pressure started using metric units, with the pressure in kilopascals (instead of millibars). During the Labor Day weekend in 1977 every speed limit sign in the country was changed from mph to kph. From the same time every new car sold had to have a speedometer that showed speed in kph and distance in km. The distances on road signs were changed to kilometres during the next few months. Still, they haven’t gone completely over, as some units like ounces or gallons are still used, but for the most part, the everyday measurements are metric.

For the U.S., it really shouldn’t be that hard. Cooking uses the Imperial system (cups, pints, etc), but a lot of packaging has both…well…pretty much ALL consumables have both. The reason is because if we export our products to any country, it must have the metric weight/volume (because all other countries are metric. The same goes for products imported. They are metric, we are imperial.

The only major hurdle would be temperature and distance. Hearing someone say it’s 20C…would you want a jacket, or shorts? Well, thats around 66F. I’d probably go for a sweater. Which is cooler…5C or 38F? Once we get over this hurdle, the rest should fall in place, but we need to just up and DO it. ALL at once. No more Fahrenheit.

The other hurdle would be distance. I don’t really have a problem with kph though. I’ve always went by 1.6km=1m and 1km=.6m That .6 has always stuck with me. Moving stuff around, 100mph is 160kmh. half of that is 50mph/80kph. And 55mph is 88kph. Each 5mph is 8kph.

Yes, the US was built on square miles and acres…barrels of oil and gallons of gas. But if other countries can change, a few years of confusion would be worthwhile to watch the weather and know what the temperature is, or be able to truly compare gas prices worldwide. Plus the conversions are simple.

A few things that we don’t think about (or did about 10 years ago) is how cars are built using the metric system. How computers are built using the metric system. How most dimensions of everything small in our house is expressed in the metric system. Laptop thicknesses, r/c parts, automobile bolts…all metric.

So why haven’t we changed already?

Some folks say that it was our rebellion from Britain. Others grew up on it and refuse to change. Here’s the problem…every military part, every small electronic device, every major employer that deals with war, manufacturing, space, medical…they all use the metric system.

So if the govenrment uses it to protect us, if, automobile manufacturers use it, if NASA uses it to explore space, if the medical field uses it to save YOUR life…why don’t we?

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One Response to “The Metric System”

  1. I find this so fascinating. Being from Canada, I have always found that trying to understand the Metric System. Messes completely with my mind!

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