Could we collectively
help save the planet by working (and therefore consuming) less? This article provides a
convincing argument in the affirmative, and an abridged version follows here.
and a more sustainable economy and ecology should have universal appeal in any
sane society. And those two ideas are
inextricably linked by the realities of global climate change. Why? Because
there is a direct connection between economic activity and greenhouse gas
emissions. The latter is, as most all of
us already know, proportionate to the former.
every hour of work we do cooks the planet and its sensitive ecosystems a little
bit more, and going home to relax and enjoy some leisure time is like taking
this boiling pot off the burner.
Most of us
burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and
performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal
one, not an individual mandate. So how
can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?
This goal of
slowing down and spending less time at work -- as radical as it may sound -- was
at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our
history, and was considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the
natural endpoint of technological development.
But beginning as early as the 1940s, it was mostly forgotten here in the
USA -- and strangely so -- even as worker productivity increased dramatically.
Worker productivity has doubled since 1948. Just to be perfectly clear, and drive the point home:
hour's work, the 'average' worker now produces twice as much in the way of
goods and services as s/he did in 1948.
And this huge increase in productivity COULD have been 'transferred'
into a reduction of the workweek from 40 hours to 20 hours. And in some countries, some of that 'transfer' has been made. To wit:
Working an average of 8.4 hours a day, Americans work an average of 1790 hours per year.
comparison, the average German worker works almost 400 hours a year less, i.e.
of reducing the length of the workday, workweek or work year, in America the
powers-that-be have chosen to increase the size of the reserve army of the
unemployment rate has hovered around 5.5% whereas ours has hovered around 7.6%,
and if we counted unemployment the same way the Germans do, our rate would be
ranks #4 in the world with regard to GDP per capita, while the USA trails at
#6. Yet Norwegians, who produce more than we do, per worker, work far fewer hours per year than we do:
1420 as compared to our 1790.
The environmental consequences of our
growth-based economic system
approach isn't good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it's
not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps
it's time to revisit this once-popular idea of sharing work more equitably,
which would also mean:
a) fewer hours of work per year for each worker.
jobs available for the ever-growing number of America's unemployed.