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New Paper Projects Significant Carbon Emission Reductions by Reducing Work Hours

A new paper finds that significant reductions in carbon emissions are possible through reducing work hours, and could help to reduce climate change. The paper, “Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change,” by David Rosnick of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), finds that 8 - 22 percent of every degree of warming through 2100 would be cut by an annual 0.5 percent reduction in work hours.


Assuming 40-60 percent of potential global warming is effectively locked-in, about one-quarter to one-half of the warming that is not already locked in could be cut through this reduction of work hours.

“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,” said economist David Rosnick, author of the paper. “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.

“The calculation is simple: fewer work hours means less carbon emissions, which means less global warming.”

The paper estimates the baseline impact from emissions associated with four different climate change scenarios, using the Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-gas Induced Climate Change produced by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

The paper notes that the pursuit of reduced work hours as a policy alternative would be much more difficult in an economy where inequality is high and/or growing. In the United States, for example, just under two-thirds of all income gains from 1973–2007 went to the top 1 percent of households. In this type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order work less. The analysis of this paper assumes that the gains from productivity growth will be more broadly shared in the future, as they have been in the past.

“Increased productivity need not fuel carbon emissions and climate change,” CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said. “Increased productivity should allow workers to have more time off to spend with their families, friends, and communities. This is positive for society, and is quantifiably better for the planet as well.”

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