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World | National

Want to slow climate change? Reduce working hours, says think tank
The online news portal of TV5

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines -- A think tank based in Washington DC has suggested a way to significantly reduce the carbon emissions blamed for climate change -- reducing work hours.

In the paper, “Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change,” which was released on Monday, David Rosnick of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said an annual 0.5 percent reduction in work hours will reduce from 8-21 percent each degree of global warming through the year 2100.

“Such a change in work hours would eliminate about one-quarter to one-half of the global warming that is not already locked in (i.e. warming that would be caused by 1990 levels of greenhouse gas concentrations already in the atmosphere),” he said.

Rosnick used four “illustrative scenarios” from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and software from the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change produced by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research to estimate the baseline impact of a reduction in work hours. 

“This choice between fewer work hours versus increased consumption has significant implications for the rate of climate change,” he noted. “A number of studies have found that shorter work hours are associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions and therefore less global climate change. The relationship between (shorter work and lower emissions) is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, Rosnick also acknowledged that making the reduction of work hours a policy alternative would be difficulty in economies where inequality exists in high or growing levels.

“In this type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to work less,” he said.

But developing countries with growing economies can choose to have a “European” work schedule -- fewer working hours and more vacation time -- or an “American” one, centered on 40-hour workweeks and limited vacation time.

“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,” he said.

Pushing for the former model, Rosnick said, “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.”

“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,” he added.

He also admitted in a statement that his study did not take into consideration the growing trend in telecommuting, which has and will continue to cut down on transportation emissions, or what a person would do with increased vacation or leisure time.

Rosnick said that, “for all practical purposes, some amount of climate change is inevitable. However, the amount of warming is very much under our control.”