Working less would slow climate change, group argues

Want to save the planet? Stop going to work. That's the conclusion of a U.S. think-tank that says slightly shorter work weeks could cut as much as half the impact it expects from global warming over the next century.
A man looks at rows of empty cubicles in China. A U.S. thinktank says working less could help mitigate the impact of climate change. (Aly Song/Reuters)

Want to save the planet? Stop going to work.

That's the conclusion of a report from Washington think-tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research this week. The report makes the claim that even a 0.5 per cent annual reduction in the length of the average workweek could be enough to cut between eight and 22 per cent of every degree of global warming that's expected between now and 2100.

The CEPR is a left-leaning think-tank based in Washington, D.C.  Although scientific opinion on the topic is divided, the CEPR makes a baseline assumption that the average temperature on earth is set to increase by somewhere between 0.75 and 2.34 degrees Celsius over the next century, a process that they attribute at least in part to human activity.

The group says between 40 and 60 per cent of global warming's potential impact is effectively locked-in already, so put another way, the CEPR is saying as much as half the rest of the impact could be cut simply by reducing work hours.

"By itself, a combination of shorter workweeks and additional vacation which reduces average annual hours by just 0.5 per cent per year would very likely mitigate one-quarter to one-half, if not more, of any warming which is not yet locked-in," economist David Rosnick says.

The group advocates a global move toward a European model of shorter work weeks and more vacations. Europe had about the same hours worked per person as the U.S. in the early 1970s, but by 2005 they were about 50 per cent less, the CEPR notes.

"The relationship between [work and climate change] is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions," the report reads.

Between now and the year 2100, the CEPR estimates that the average worker's income is going to increase by 1.3 and 2.7 per cent, per year. A reduction in the number of hours need not eat into that growth, as the CEPR says productivity increases should be enough to keep incomes growing while reducing the world's carbon footprint.

"For all practical purposes, some amount of climate change is inevitable. However, the amount of warming is very much under our control," Rosnick said.