As the impending climate crisis looms, many of us ask what we can do to help form a society that is living within the means of our rapidly depleting planet. One surprising answer comes from the research group Autonomy is to simply work less.
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The think tank have released a report titled ‘The ecological limits of work: on carbon emissions, carbon budgets and working time' that suggests a drastic cut in the hours of the working week is a viable way to increase ‘individual well being, productivity, and gender equality whilst simultaneously potentially contributing to a reduction in unemployment and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.’
A decrease in work means a decrease in CO2 emissions
The report goes on to suggest we need to change our mindset from a production focused view that prioritizes growth with no limit to a type of economy that considers the sustainability of the planet.
The report cites research from the 2012 paper “Reducing Growth to Achieve Environmental Sustainability: The Role of Work Hours” that predicted a 1 percent decrease in working hours could lead to a 1.46 percent decrease in carbon footprint and 0.42 percent decrease for CO2 emissions.
The report also uses information gathered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on carbon productivity per industry sector. This data links GHG emissions to units of GDP, as GDP connects closely to waged working time in one form or another, the authors of the report assume a proportional relationship between labor time and GHG emissions.
Rethink the entire economy
The OECD data also outlines the total GHG emissions per unit of GDP (kg CO2 eq per dollar GDP), or Carbon Intensity of an economy (CI). The Autonomy report extrapolates this to put a figure on how much GDP per capita would be sustainable.
The report goes as far as to suggest an algorithm that can determine how many hours of work per week is sustainable within a given economy. Doing this generates some pretty stark realities.
The table below shows Actual vs. Target Labour Utilisation of the UK, Sweden, and Germany and the difference between actual working hours levels vastly exceed the levels the authors suggest might be sustainable.
The report acknowledges that it isn’t as simple as not going to work but requires an entire shift in economic thinking that would contribute to a massive and rapid cut in GHG emission.
The report calls for an adaption of Paul Lafargue phrase, the ‘necessity to be lazy.’ Arguing that to achieve ecological sustainability ‘requires an overall decrease in material consumption and a vast expansion in terms of leisure time and thus an increase in “time prosperity."
However, this reduction in work and extra leisure time is not a luxurious but urgent action that is required if we are to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees. The full report can be read here.