A bill was introduced by state Representative Karl Rhoads of Hawaii earlier this year that seeks to make the metric system mandatory within his state. Called “Relating to the Metric System,” H.B. 36 states in part:
The legislature finds that very strong economic and scientific reasons exist for states to switch to the metric system. Other than Burma and Liberia, the United States is the only country that has not switched to the metric system. The cost of not switching to the metric system is quickly increasing with the trend towards globalization. Failing to switch could result in the United States losing its competitive edge in science and technology, as well as continuing to create bilateral trade impediments with other countries.
The cost of switching to a metric system could be quickly outweighed by the economic benefits of global interoperability. This is particularly important as the dominance of United States companies is being challenged in the competitive atmosphere of globalization. Switching to the metric system would likely result in the creation of many jobs, and enable the current and future workforce of the United States to be more prepared to work in the international marketplace.
It also stipulates that the law would go into effect on January 1, 2018. (http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=36)
There has been some traffic on the U.S. Metric Association’s listserve (which anyone can join for free) on this topic and some concerns were raised regarding the potential legality of such a law since it might run counter to federal laws regarding labeling.
I do know that “The act to authorize the use of the metric system of weights and measures” from 1866 states:
It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system.
I don’t have the legal background or financial resources to address this issue right now but I do know that states’ rights issues are relevant in this matter. (As I’ve said before, we’re less the UNITED States of America than we are the United STATES of America. Full metric implementation could be difficult without states’ cooperation.) I had also hypothesized that perhaps it was Hawaii’s shorter exposure to our metric-adoption struggles that helped it along this path but after speaking with Representative Rhoades, there was another, more practical reason (in addition to those listed in H.B. 36 above): tourism.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority:
Hawaii’s visitor industry continues to be the largest generator of jobs among the major industry sectors in the state, providing 152,864 jobs in 2010…Tourism is also the largest source of private capital into the Hawaiian Islands, contributing $11.4 billion in visitor spending and $1 billion in tax revenue last year.
As the Representative pointed out to me, visitors go to Hawaii from all over the world. (And why wouldn’t they? I know I’d like to visit.) Increasingly, people from other countries travel to Hawaii and are tripped up by our illogical measurement system on everything from road signs to fuel to groceries (my words, not his).
A lovely beach in Hawaii
He hopes that a change to the metric system will not only make it easier for international visitors but that such a transition won’t cause problems for the rest of the country since Hawaii is physically isolated. (Of course, there’s still all the practical reasons listed above why we should all move over to metric.)
I applaud Representative Rhoads for his efforts and while his bill will need reintroduction next year, there is something we can do to help this work along. If you can vote in Hawaii, write to your representatives urging them to support this legislation. Know someone who lives in Hawaii? Clue them in to what’s going on so they can light a fire under those who influence the state’s government. For a complete list of Hawaii state legislators, go to http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=H for the House and http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=S for the Senate.
While such efforts might not seem to be seminal, by getting forward movement in enough different places, it just might be enough to change the world…oh wait…the rest of the world has changed, it’s us who are lagging behind.
The time to get with the rest of the world is now.
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