Working less could help solve climate crisis

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Want to help save the planet? Turn that PC off, sit back and put your feet up, says Washington thinktank the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

Cutting back on work hours and playing more instead could help slow global warming significantly. Indeed, sys CEPR, 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, it says, as much as half the rest could be cut through this reduction of 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.

"For many years, European countries have been reducing work hours – including by taking more holidays, vacation, and leave – while the United States has gone the route of increased production. The calculation is simple: fewer work hours means less carbon emissions, which means less global warming."

The team points out that this is easier said than done in countries such as the US: already a very unequal society, and one where inequality is growing.

Here, for example, just under two-thirds of all income gains from 1973 to 2007 went to the top one percent of households. In this type of economy, most workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to work less.  

However, the authors say that if society can once again become more equal, productivity growth could become a benefit for all.

"Increased productivity need not fuel carbon emissions and climate change," says 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."