Can working less save the planet?
More lazing about could help solve climate crisis, says a D.C. think tank. Could this help the post office justify stopping Saturday mail delivery?
Wed, Feb 06, 2013 at 11:12 AM
Now here's a novel idea: Spend more time lolling around and potentially help stave off climate change. We're not talking about living the life of a Lotto commercial and sitting poolside 24-7 while cabana nymphs tend to your whims, but even a small reduction in work hours could potentially make an impact on the planet.
When Utah decided to close state offices on Fridays in 2008, the result was a 13 percent reduction in energy use. Employees reported increased happiness, absenteeism went down, and state employees were estimated to save between $5 million and $6 million annually by skipping one commute per week.
The reduction of working hours was one of the original objectives of labor law, and was first directed toward the hours of working children in mid-19th century Europe. A 48-hour workweek was adopted in many countries, and by the 1920s, a number of industries in Europe and the United States had introduced a 40-hour week — definitely a step in the right direction.
But now the Washington policy institute, Center for Economic and Policy Research and Policy Research (CEPR), has proposed further trimming of the average workweek, noting that more play and less work could help slow global warming significantly. The brains at the think tank note that an annual 0.5 percent reduction in work hours would cut between eight and 22 percent of every degree of warming from now until 2100.
While 40-60 percent of potential global warming is effectively locked-in, CEPR says, as much as half the rest could be cut through reducing work hours.
"As productivity increases, especially in high-income countries, there is a social choice between taking some of these gains in the form of reduced hours, or entirely as increased production," says economist David Rosnick. “The calculation is simple: fewer work hours means less carbon emissions, which means less global warming."
"Increased productivity need not fuel carbon emissions and climate change," notes CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot. "Increased productivity should allow workers to have more time off to spend with their families, friends, and communities. This is positive for society, and is quantifiably better for the planet as well."
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service is set to ask Congress for permission to end the delivery of letters on Saturdays. The alteration of service would cut costs by as much as $2 billion a year and trim 45 million work hours annually — not to mention a significant amount of carbon emissions. Postal carriers pledge that "neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail" can stop deliveries, but apparently an insurmountable financial deficit can. But in light of CEPR’s calculations, the Postal Service’s plan could have a positive environmental impact as well.
So, less work during the week and no irksome bills delivered on Saturdays in exchange for helping keep climate change at bay? Sounds like it's time to break out the hammock.
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