Economist advocates working less to alleviate global warming, US should adopt European approach to productivity

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Is working less better for the planet?

A Center for Economic Policy Research paper released Monday claims that reducing work hours could result in a significant reduction of greenhouse gases, and with it global warming.

“The calculation is simple: fewer work hours means less carbon emissions, which means less global warming,” the paper’s author CEPR’s David Rosnick explained.

Rosnick writes in his paper, “Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change,” that a reduction in work hours would eliminate a quarter to a half of the global warming from greenhouse gases that are not “locked in,” or warming caused by 1990 emissions concentrations.

“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,” Rosnick said in a statement. “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.”

Rosnick concludes that should America adopt a more European approach to work — more vacations and fewer work hours — some global warming could be avoided.

“In addition to reducing emissions by other means, a significant reduction in climate change is possible by choosing a more European response to productivity gains rather than following a model more like that of the United States,” Rosnick wrote in his conclusion. “By itself, a combination of shorter workweeks and additional vacation which reduces average annual hours by just 0.5 percent per year would very likely mitigate one-quarter to one-half, if not more, of any warming which is not yet locked-in.”

He reached his conclusions using four “illustrative scenarios” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and software from the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change.

“Increased productivity need not fuel carbon emissions and climate change,” CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot added in a statement. “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.”

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Caroline May