USA workers and climate change

Sep 09, 2016 | written by:

The first has been the International Resource Panel of the United Nations with a report, now also the sociologist Alex Williams agrees with it explaining the situation in a op-ed in the prestigious British newspaper The Independent. Shortening the workweek to four days in the developed world would dramatically cut carbon emissions, fighting climate change. Actually, many other journalists and newspapers reported that reducing working days would be a panacea, but the latter have focused only on the side of employee productivity and company's balance, without analyzing the environmental impact of that choice. Most emissions are created by economic activity such as commuting to work, operating machines in factories, and running computers and air-conditioning in offices.

Williams cites a 2006 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, produced by the economists David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot, making a comparison between the European and the US energy consumption in relation with the way of work. In the US workers spend much more time in the office than their European colleagues. A resident of the Old World generally consumes half energy compared to the one of the New World.

If Americans simply followed European levels of working hours, with more days off, they would see an estimated 20% reduction in energy use – and hence in carbon emissions. The percentage represents the 4% above the negotiated target of the Kyoto Protocol. Not the same good news if was Europe to adopt the American labor model: the power consumption would increased by 25%, causing serious environmental damage.

Utah had already experienced a European working model from 2007 until 2011, redefining the work week for state employees, with extended hours on Monday to Thursday meaning it could eliminate Fridays entirely. In its first ten months, the move saved the state at least US$1.8m in energy costs. The experiment has been abandoned after residents complained they were unable to access services on Fridays.

Such a change obviously requires a change also in our mindset level starting to look Friday as the third day of the weekend to devote to themselves. Consequent step, but perhaps more difficult to implement, says anthropologist David Graeber, it’s to begin to value workers for results and productivity and for hours logged in the office. A benefit for people and for the environment. 

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