U.S. should think logically and adopt the metric system
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 6, 2012 22:09
This past summer, I studied in Spain. It is only a slight exaggeration to state that Spain is a different world from the U.S. The scenery and the cultural norms are radically different. Even small aspects of everyday life are different. For instance, in the U.S., there are a lot of Fords, Chevys and Chryslers, as well as Japanese imports. In Spain, most cars are of makes seldom or never seen in the U.S., such as SEAT, Renault and Fiat. In Connecticut, I buy groceries at Stop & Shop. In Spain, I would buy groceries at Carrefour. Believe it or not, though, the difference that most struck me was something I had already known about like almost every country in the world, Spain uses the International System of Units (informally known as the metric system). The United States still uses the English system. It is long past time for our country to adopt the metric system.
The most obvious – and most important – reason why the United States needs to switch to the metric system is that the metric system is much easier to understand and use than the English system. The metric system is based on powers of ten. The basic metric unit of length is the meter. There are 1,000 millimeters in one meter, 100 centimeters in one meter and 1,000 meters in one kilometer. There are many other metric prefixes, but the ones I have illustrated here are the most commonly-used.
Contrast the simplicity of the metric system with the chaos of the English system. For instance, there are 12 inches in one foot, three feet in one yard and 5,280 feet in one mile. With all due respect, where is the logic in the English system? It is much easier to memorize metric conversions than it is to memorize English conversions. In fact, if one knows the metric prefixes, one does not even need to memorize metric conversions. For example, because the prefix “centi-” is defined as one-hundredth of the basic unit, one automatically knows that one centimeter is one one-hundredth of a meter and that there are therefore 100 centimeters in one meter. In contrast, how does one determine that there are three feet in one yard, or 5,280 feet in one mile? There is no way to figure that out using logic. One simply has to memorize the conversions.
Another reason for adopting the metric system is that Americans already use the metric system for a number of purposes. For instance, soda is sold in two-liter bottles.
“Nutrition Facts” labels on food products use grams. More importantly, power is measured in the metric unit of watts. The English unit of power is horsepower. However, your electric bill, the energy consumed by your household, is measured in kilowatt-hours, not horsepower. Moreover, scientists in the United States use the metric system, not only because it is easier to make metric conversions, but also because there are no English units for some quantities, such as magnetism or radiation. In short, since Americans already use the metric system in so many ways, why shouldn’t we fully adopt it? Why leave a job only partially complete?
Opponents of metrication often claim that switching to the metric system would be confusing. It certainly would confuse many people at first, but Americans would adapt to the new system soon enough. Education would be the key to a smooth transition to the metric system. For instance, the government could set a target date by which all federal highway signs will display distances in kilometers. During the years leading to the target date, the media could educate people about kilometers. It would be easy enough, since the speedometers of cars in the United States contain scales of both miles per hour and kilometers per hour. Besides, all countries that currently use the metric system had to switch to it at some point. Americans can do it too.
It is time for America to embrace the metric system.