Are time zones obsolete? According to two Johns Hopkins University professors, Steve Hanke and Richard Henry, an economist and an astrophysicist, respectively, the world would be better off if everyone set their watches to the same time, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
Trying to change how the world tells time might seem like a crazy idea at first glance, but in a globally connected world, a single time zone has its benefits.
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For starters, time zones are political creations, not scientific ones. The world isn't divided into 24 precisely demarcated lines based on sunlight patterns. Instead, there are around 40 different locally observed times created by different nations and regions. Some countries, such as Nepal, Venezuela or North Korea, have 30- or even 45-minute offsets separating their time from their longitudinal neighborhood.
Countries also change their time zones regularly. As the Washington Post mentions in an interview recently with Hanke and Henry, five countries changed theirs last year.
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Having a world with varying and potentially variable time zones can cause confusion for international travel, shipping, financial markets and other areas. The potential for disruption as a result of working across different time zones has led some industries, such as airlines, and scientific researchers, such as astronomers, already to adopt a universal time standard based on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Daylight savings would also be eliminated in a world governed by a single time zone. As it is, daylight savings is disruptive to both international time, as different countries adjust their watches on different days or weeks, and our biological clocks. One study released last year even linked daylight savings to an increase in risk of injury and heart attacks.
There are trade-offs to switching to a single, global time zone. With the abolition of local time, businesses, schools, government offices and more would have to adjust their operating hours accordingly. In large countries that have abolished multiple time zones in favor of a single standard, such as China and India, the disconnects between local and solar time have led to inefficiencies and resource demands that have led some government officials to petition for the creation of additional zones.
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A single international time standard is supposed to make it easier for individuals, businesses or governments to connect when they're separated longitudinally. Twelve o'clock in Los Angeles, for example, would also be 12:00 in London.
With the system of time we currently have, everyone has the same expectations in terms of what hours constitute morning, midday, afternoon and evening. Anyone unsure of a time zone in another part of the world can look it up easily enough. But in a world with a single time zone, determining the solar time, as in what point in the day another location happens to be in, is trickier.
Finally, moving to a single time zone would mean asking billions of people to completely reformulate their notions of time. For a plan whose entire basis is simplicity, that obstacle presents an awfully complicated challenge.