It was a scorching summer in 2016. I had the privilege of visiting the Republic of Kiribati, a beautiful island country in the central Pacific Ocean.

Tarawa is the atoll capital of Kiribati and is located 1,838 miles south of Hawaii and 2,147 miles northeast from Fiji. As there are no direct flights from Hawaii to the island, I had to layover in Fiji one extra day on my way to and from Kiribati.

Kiribati is a lovely tropical place a few feet above the ocean where time seems to stand still! (Due to the convincing evidence of sea-level rise, Kiribati is currently about to lose a significant portion of its already-small land to the rising seas.)

Kiribati is made up of two main island groups that span over two different dates. The local time difference between both ends of the archipelago had previously been 23 hours, as the International Date Line passed through the central part of the Kiribati islands. In 1995, Kiribati unilaterally realigned the IDL far to the east to encompass the Line Islands group and to eliminate the time difference confusion.

A Hilo sunset. The author proposes that the International Date Line pass through there. Courtesy Albert S. Kim

Playing with time is not a new concept. There is Kiritimati Island, Kiribati, located south of the Hawaiian Islands, at a distance of 1,250 miles, which is equivalent to 6.5 hours of flight time. The small island is the place where we can see the first sunrise of each day currently.

Due to the time zone realignment of Kiribati in 1995, Kiritimati Island received global attention in 2000 as the hot spot to view the first-millennium sunrise.

(Note: I wrote this piece on Wednesday, March 7, 2018, at 7:16 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time. The current local time in Kiritimati Island was 7:16 pm Thursday (not Wednesday), on March 8, 2018.)

Longitudes of Honolulu (157.86W) and Kiritimati (157.42W) are almost on the same line. However, Kiritimati Island is not the only place of the first sunrise — there’s also (surprisingly) Apia in Samoa (172.10W). Samoa erased Dec. 30, 2011, from its history and jumped forward in time by redrawing the IDL in 2011. Samoa’s recent time zone switch in 2011 was meant to simplify the country’s trade relations with Australia and New Zealand within the same day.

Emails Buried In The Abyss

As a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, my work week usually starts on Sunday afternoons. I typically start receiving work-related emails during Sunday afternoons from collaborators in Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and China because they already start their workday on Monday mornings.

My email communication often continues way late into my Sunday evening until my colleagues call it a day. At the same time, I often work with collaborators in the East Coast. On Fridays, I usually hesitate to send emails to my colleagues on the East Coast. These emails will be read mostly by them on their next Monday morning. To prevent my emails from getting buried in an abyss of their inbox, I often use Boomerang.

The current International Date Line. 

For trading from Hawaii with Asian countries, in my opinion, there are technically only four work days available. Monday morning in Asia is Sunday afternoon in Hawaii. Our Friday is their Saturday and Hawaii’s Thursday afternoon is Asia’s Friday morning. Therefore, the effective trading days cannot be more than four full days, except in some individual cases. Hawaii’s requests to Asian workers on our Thursday afternoon can be easily delayed to the Monday of the next week.

The following are the well-known events that happened on Nov. 8, 2016:

  • Polls for the presidential election opened throughout the country (6 a.m. –12 p.m. EST), with the last being Hawaii, which opened up at 12 p.m. EST (7 a.m. HST).
  • At 11 p.m., California, Hawaii and Washington closed their polls after Oregon.
  • At 12 a.m., Nov. 9, Alaska closed its polls, and Donald Trump was the projected winner of the election.

In the middle of Hawaii’s opening, we already knew who the next president was going to be. To the best of my memory, Hawaii’s ballots did not get close attention, as even without the latter, the election results were well predictable.

Here’s a crazy idea to make Hawaii a better place for residents: Let’s have time begin in Hilo by realigning the IDL to live 24 hours ahead!

Why? The following are the great advantages:

  1. If Hawaii realigns the IDL by losing a day just as Samoa had done, time will begin in Hawaii. The residents of Hawaii will live earlier than that of New York, and the daily U.S. news will start in Hawaii. As our time zone will be the first, we would stay ahead. No place would be any more important than the Hawaiian Islands, where time begins every day.
  2. Hawaii’s trading with Asian countries will be enhanced by having more effective working hours per week. After the (proposed) dateline readjustment, the workday of Hawaii will be ahead of that of our Asian partners. Even while traveling between Asia and Hawaii, the travelers will be in the almost same time zone. When people in Hawaii would eat lunch, Asians would be eating breakfast on the same day.
  3. This proposed time change would entail that our Mondays would be less hectic for continental U.S. trading with California, Florida and New York. When we start a week, the time in the U.S. will still be Sunday afternoon. On the other hand, the U.S. mainland’s Friday afternoon will be our Saturday morning. Perhaps, we will lose some working time in the U.S. mainland trading as much as we gain some time from Asian trading. However, with U.S. mainland states, Hawaii has many more imports than exports. Therefore, the question is as follows: Should Hawaii people work on our Saturday mornings or should mainland traders work on their Sunday afternoons?
  4. Similar to my past trip to Kiribati, flights between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland will entail time travel. A red-eye flight from California on Friday late evening will arrive at Honolulu on Sunday morning. However, the travelers can leave Honolulu bound for California on Monday morning and arrive home on Sunday! At this moment, I would agree on the fact that much more detailed calculation should be undertaken to generate extra revenues for the airline companies.
  5. In the U.S., Benjamin Franklin first proposed the concept of daylight savings time in 1784 in his essay “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light.” Most states in the U.S. take advantage of DST for the economic benefits. Hawaii does not participate in daylight saving because we have consistent light year-round and there is no benefit of participating in DST. Changing our time zone ahead will simply require the passing of state law.
  6. Finally, which city will open and close the first polls of the next presidential election that is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020? An East Coast city or Hilo?

Living in Oahu for many years and teaching local and native Hawaiian students as an engineering faculty member at UH Manoa, I have started thinking of fundamental ways to level up the status of Hawaii in all aspects. The IDL change in Hawaii, if implemented, will eliminate a day in Hawaiian history, but will bring much more benefits and opportunities for future generations. Any inputs are welcome.

“To change or not to change the IDL, that is the question.”

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