Reduce Climate Change by Reducing the Work Week

Environmentalists are doing a lot to stop or slow down climate change, like marching, driving the Prius, recycling, using cloth bags, and holding their farts, but few are doing what millions of broke-ass Americans are already doing: working part time, or not at all.

After all, what contributes more to energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than productive work? “Productivity” requires consuming resources. If you write a report about climate change, you probably use a computer, and print the report on paper. Both things required energy to produce.

If you’re a productive carpenter, you’re consuming wood and fuel. If you’re a productive IT worker, you’re consuming electricity, oil and metals. If you’re a productive factory worker, you’re causing a lot of raw materials to be transformed, and that takes energy.

There’s also the issue of commuting to work. Driving produces more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases than almost anything else an individual can do.

The Cost of Living

Income becomes a serious problem if you’re only working part-time, as anyone who has worked part-time will tell you. There are three ways to deal with this: let prices drop, let wages rise, and increase social welfare.

If we simply cut hours, and paychecks shrink, people won’t be able to buy as much stuff, and prices will drop. Dropping prices will probably trigger a depression that lasts a long time.

If we make a demand to get paid for 40 hours, when we work only 20 hours, we’ll experience inflation, and prices will rise. Everything will become more expensive until your big paycheck doesn’t look too big. The trade off is that the economy won’t spiral downward into a depression. Instead, you’ll experience the pain of hyperinflation.

The last option is to increase social welfare, like food stamps, public housing, and other material benefits. Your income may decline, but you’d get access to a lot of “free” things, like food and possibly housing. These wouldn’t really be free — because someone else pays for it, or maybe you’d pay for it in taxes.

Increasing social welfare is both depressive and inflationary. It depresses prices in the markets in which welfare participates. It’s inflationary because it creates demand for specific kinds of labor, causing wages to rise for people who supply these welfare items to the government. These two things may balance each other out.

The likely real-world path to a shorter work week and a green economy will probably employ all three of these methods.

How to Get There

If people can be convinced that reducing work is the way to manage climate change, the system can be changed.

The changes can be incremental, like laws that require benefits to start at 35 hours, then 30 hours, and so forth, down to 20 hours a week.

Change the overtime laws to cover everyone, and then set the work week progressively lower.

To achieve these small changes, though, we need a general consensus that the work week needs to be reduced. This requires a sustained propaganda effort by the grassroots, to keep the idea in everyone’s mind. This means everything from memes to films, to apps, to organizations should strive to spread the idea that a shorter work week will help the planet.

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