If Americans worked less -- like the Europeans do -- the pace of global warming may slow down, thereby saving the planet.
According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), a progressive Washington, D.C.-based think-tank, by cutting the average 40-hour-plus work-week that is common practice in the U.S., global carbon emissions would be significantly reduced. The group posits that half of the global warming that is not already "locked in" by 2100 could be mitigated through a reduction in work hours.
Europeans, CEPR indicated, have been cutting down the number of hours their citizens work (via shorter weekly hours and more vacation and leave time).
“Shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change,” the CEPR study noted.
“The relationship between these two variables is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Economist David Rosnick, lead author of the paper wrote: “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. The calculation is simple: fewer work hours means less carbon emissions, which means less global warming.”
However, the researchers concede the reducing work hours in the U.S. would be difficult given the growing income inequality in the country. The study pointed out that between 1973 and 2007 a little less than two-thirds of all income gains went to the top one percent of households.
“In this type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order work less,” the CEPR explained.
According to data from Britain’s Office of National Statistics and EuroStat, the average worker in the European Union put in 37.4 hours at the office or factory in 2011. However, there was a great variance among the countries -- from as low as 30.5 hours in Holland to more than 42 hours in (ironically) Greece.
The EU’s biggest economies fell somewhere in the middle of the pack: Germany (35.6), France (38.0) and the UK (36.3).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employed American worked an average of 8.8 hours per day (or 44 hours per week) in 2011.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.