Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's about Time

Despite all the activism and writing about Copenhagen, few are putting shorter work hours (i.e., consuming productivity gains in the form of more leisure than commodified goods and services) on the environmental agenda. Why?


masoud said...

If i'm going to have to work less hours, who's going to pay off my rent and student loans? This would be unworkable, unless of course we could get my employer to raise my hourly rate. But if we could do that, this would be a very different world.

I think the only real way to make a meaningfull dent in CO2 emmisions in the medium term is for concerned parties to make massive investments in cleaner technoligies, and distribute these technoligies worldwide royalty-free.


Yoshie said...

Royalty-free transfer of cleaner technologies would be desirable, but the rich won't give up what they have easily, so a doable thing on this front may be for developing countries to begin to do in the field of energy what some developing countries have done with essential medicines: rejecting patent and going ahead with production of generic versions.

But, even under capitalism, there's a great variety in work hours. It would be a major step in the right direction if the Americans and the Japanese, for instance, could begin to bring down their hours to the European level.

Since a lot of US workers' motivation for coveting overtime is to pay off student debt and things like that, the government can begin by helping the debtors rather than the creditors.

masoud said...

With regard to the hours, I can see how a shorter work week in a society like the US, in which most people are to underwater to do much of anything carbon intensive for leisure would have positive outcomes, but what about a society like Japan? From what I know, it's not as big of a debt-ridden society, and large amount of people have significant nest-eggs stashed away. If the Japanese took more time off to have fun, wouldn't they be more likely to engage in carbon-heavy activities like travel?

In any case, I'm sold on the debtor-aid and shorter working hours, both for the sake of global warming and a host of other reasons, but i don't think it can even begin to have nearly enough impact.

Better technology, freely distributed worldwide, is not only a good idea, i think it's the only way ahead. The global warming debate is one that has come to be completely dominated by talk of quotas, which no one will ever agree to, and markets, which are not going to work. I think it's time people put their money where their mouths are and got to work directly making cleaner industry a reality.

William McGaughey said...

Shorter work hours gained permanently over a period of time do not require a trade off with real income. Studies of actual situations conducted by Paul H. Douglas and others show this. Yes, I suppose if people use their leisure to take airplane trips all over the world, it would increase the carbon footprint, but I think that can be dealt with separately.

Sandwichman said...


Tim Jackson and Peter Victor are two ecological economists who do indeed put shorter work hours at the top of the environmental agenda. See Jackson's Prosperity without Growth (originally released as a report of the U.K. Sustainable Development Commission) and Victor's Managing without Growth.

Ben Courtice said...

I agree shorter hours is important, but I haven't yet written anything on it! I have been planning to however. I am starting to address issues of consumerism just briefly in my latest blog post on eco-taxation but hope to write more on it in coming days/weeks. Good to see someone else raising it!