New study: Work less, fight climate change

By John Parnell

Cutting working hours by 0.5% could help to reduce the warming impact of future emissions by one quarter to one half according to a new study.

A US switch to a “more European approach” with shorter working weeks and more vacation time could significantly limit warming according to the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a liberal Washington-based think tank.

“The direct cost of a reduction in work hours is at worst very small,” writes David Rosnick, an economist at CEPR.

“In standard neoclassical models, the loss of consumption due to working less is offset in large part by an increase in leisure. In fact, a reduction in work hours may increase hourly productivity or (when employment is depressed) increase the employed share of the population.

Shutting offices and factories down would save emissions but working smarter could be just as good (Source: Flickr/juhansonin)

“These effects may offset aggregate income losses, with higher levels of employment having the additional effect of lowering the cost of unemployment benefits.”

Before our US readers get ready to embrace a European working week, siestas and all, the proposal’s are unlikely to prove universally popular.

It’s had a cold reception.

Republicans have interpreted the research as anti-capitalist and it would probably make it a hard sell many business leaders too, regardless of how many hours its advocates worked to promote it.

Right wing news blog NewsBusters links the research to the liberal ‘degrowth’ and stretches the report’s conclusion slightly by intimating the recommendations would include “preventing people from getting second jobs if their first job isn’t enough, perhaps forcing one of the members of a two-income couple to quit their job, etc”.

The Utah State government experimented with four day working week between 2008 and 2011 but plummeting energy costs surpassed the expected efficiency savings and the public complained about not having services available on Friday.

There are other ways to reduce the impacts of work places such as telecommuting.

Studies estimate that 45% of jobs are suitable for remote working while 83% of Americans already do some work remotely.

Cutting business travel and improving the efficiency of office buildings and promoting sustainability to employees can all help to curb emissions without sacrificing output.

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