A new series on BBC1 shows how our planet is being “re-engineered”, and it provides pointers to the future, some of them unexpected.
In 2012, the population of the world passed 7 billion (about 6.6 billion of whom live in countries where metric is the primary system of measurement, but that’s another story). It is also the year when, for the first time, over half the world’s population lives in towns and cities. A new series of three programmes on BBC1, “Supersized Earth”, looks at some of the consequences.
The presenter, Dallas Campbell, born in September 1970, is one of the UK’s metric majority, see Metric majority attained, and appears comfortable with using metric units (as you would expect). But the producer of the series throws in some miles, feet and inches too. Curious. What could be the explanation?
The law in the UK draws a distinction between the use of units for measurement and for description. Hence, you will see 5 foot (or should that be feet?) Christmas trees but timber sold by the metre. Miles, yards, feet, inches and pints are now the only imperial units commonly and legally used in the UK today for measurement, in particular for “road traffic signs, distance and speed” and with the pint limited to draught beer and cider. But in the USA, the only other major country that still uses “English” measures, yards are rarely encountered and the pint is different from the imperial pint. So that just leaves, yes – you have guessed, miles, feet and inches. The foot is used worldwide for altitude, as a result of US dominance of the aerospace industry immediately after the second world war, and this provides a further reason why we remain familiar with it.
So perhaps “Supersized Earth” gives pointers to the future, not only for cities in the twenty-first century, but also for the way we in the UK will continue to use measurements in our daily lives for many years to come – confusing for many and a handicap if we wish to compete in world markets, but nevertheless a real possibility.
That forgotten politician, who in 1972 decided to drop plans to change the UK’s road signs to metric, could hardly have foreseen the costly and far-reaching consequences of his decision. There will be more about him in a future Metric Views article.
Metric Views welcomes the comments of any readers who view episodes of “Supersize Earth”. The next is on Wednesday, 28 November, at 20:00 h on BBC1.