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Could a Shorter Workweek Help Save Our Planet and Our Civilization?

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 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.

Less work 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.

Simply put, 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: 

With an 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.

By comparison, the average German worker works almost 400 hours a year less, i.e. 1397 hours.

But instead 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 unemployed.  Consider:

*The German 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 higher still.

*Norway 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 

Our current 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.

b) more jobs available for the ever-growing number of America's unemployed.

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http://www.crystalclearcommunications.net/

Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)
 

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The case for working less is ultimately about pro... by Richard Clark on Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 1:05:37 PM
Lawrence Lessig testifies and encourages governors... by Pal Palsimon on Monday, Apr 28, 2014 at 8:46:47 AM
You've got my vote Richard. What your talking abou... by Mark Whittington on Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 5:43:36 PM
You make a lot of great points, Mark, and I very m... by Richard Clark on Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 7:22:03 PM
For those who might wish to check out these ideas ... by Richard Clark on Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 9:17:39 PM
Excellent editorial, Richard!  Your argument ... by Tom Huckin on Friday, Apr 25, 2014 at 10:43:59 PM
Do you really want to save the planet? Then there ... by Bill Johnson on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 9:22:46 AM
Let me guess Bill, you've got some kind of reactio... by Mark Whittington on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 9:52:31 AM
Mark I am a Deist. The gospels are an invention of... by Bill Johnson on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 11:48:15 AM
" This is liberalism 101. Always undermine and att... by J. Edward Tremlett on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 10:26:13 PM
Your assumption and accusation is unjust. I suppor... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 12:00:32 PM
(#1)"Your assumption and accusation is unjust."You... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 12:37:52 PM
" I know why you are only allowed to comment,... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 1:17:37 PM
"It is no secret why this site stopped me from pos... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 6:53:17 PM
Funny thing there, when I, a conservative tried po... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 8:40:39 PM
"Funny thing there, when I, a conservative tried p... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 9:17:59 PM
Bill, I am 100% with you here. Thanks for bringing... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 12:48:29 PM
Wow. This is strange. What on earth are you guys t... by Mark Whittington on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 2:10:17 PM
No one said the 8% percent were reasonable and no ... by Bill Johnson on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 3:12:24 PM
Much truth to what you say. Scientists do have the... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 6:44:20 PM
I differ with Bill on how we should get to half a ... by Daniel Geery on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 6:40:59 PM
How to get there...If you follow the Georgia Guide... by Bill Johnson on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 7:15:50 PM
Yes, because following ideas put into concrete by ... by J. Edward Tremlett on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 10:36:02 PM
Ah, but he did sign his name and identify who was ... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 11:54:54 AM
(#1)When I was a kid, the Rosicrucians had full pa... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 12:33:31 PM
Ah so you are on the outside looking in ever oh so... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 1:46:58 PM
So you claim to be a member of the group, or at le... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 3:11:23 PM
Look at it this way... while I fully support the t... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 9:35:56 PM
I'd be impressed by what you claim to have learned... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 9:56:49 PM
I try to be nice and show an uninitiated a little ... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 11:14:14 PM
And... right on cue. #3.Now, I thought you were do... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 11:27:27 PM
Your interpretation above may well be correct. If ... by Daniel Geery on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 1:45:11 PM
How do we achieve a reduction in population? ... by Richard Clark on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 9:51:31 PM
Gave you a thumbs up here, Richard, but would sugg... by Daniel Geery on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 1:50:37 PM
I think we could handle 70, or even 700 billion, i... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 5:42:30 PM
I must assume you do mean 7 billion, which is abou... by Daniel Geery on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 6:06:58 PM
"If there is some compelling reason for having as ... by J. Edward Tremlett on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 6:54:34 PM
You and I agree that what you just said should hel... by Bill Johnson on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 1:56:35 PM
... by Richard Clark on Saturday, Apr 26, 2014 at 9:53:49 PM
Here's the way the New Economics Foundation in th... by Richard Clark on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 9:23:57 AM
21 hours of work each week should therefore be th... by Richard Clark on Sunday, Apr 27, 2014 at 9:37:40 AM
No doubt in my mind we need shorter work week, few... by Pal Palsimon on Monday, Apr 28, 2014 at 12:40:37 AM