"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Growth-Based Economic System’

“It’s Like We Think Nature Is For Free”: The US Now Has An ‘Ecological Deficit,’ Report Finds

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 12.51.33 PMOldspeak: “Despite being the third richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, the United States is using resources nearly twice as fast as they can be naturally sustained…That is in large part due to California, which is using resources eight times faster than they can be renewed and in the midst of a severe drought… it would take eight Californias to support the state’s large population, voracious appetite for water, and carbon footprint.” –Erik Sherman

“Yep. That’s happening. California, much like the rest of the developed world is rapidly depleting earths natural capital at ever more unsustainable rates. This can only continue for so much longer. As would be expected in a finance publication, this problem in discussed in the language of the market, with resources discussed as commodities with value. The author of this piece names “winners” and “losers” blaming offending states for the deficit, and highlighting the states doing the best at resource conservation. No discussion or critical analysis of omnicidal hyper-destructive extractive economic system and cultural ethos that is Industrial Civilization. No acknowledgment of the root cause of the conditions we see in the world today and how its demands are driving humanity’s suicidal behaviour. Sigh… Mark your calendars kids! World Ecological Deficit Day is August 13th! Everything Is AWESOME!” -OSJ

Written By Eric Sherman @ Fortune:

California — in the fourth year of its drought — is just one of many states to blame, a new report finds.

The United States reached a grim milestone on July 14. It officially has an “ecological deficit,” meaning the U.S. has exhausted all the natural resources that can be replenished in a year, according to a new report from two non-profit environmental groups. Everything from now until December 31 is deficit environmental spending.

Despite being the third richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, the United States is using resources nearly twice as fast as they can be naturally sustained, according to the report by Oakland, California-based Global Footprint Network and Tacoma, Washington-based Earth Economics.

That is in large part due to California, which is using resources eight times faster than they can be renewed and in the midst of a severe drought. According to the report, it would take eight Californias to support the state’s large population, voracious appetite for water, and carbon footprint. But Texas and Florida also have high ecological deficits.

In fact, although Texas and Michigan are the two states with the “greatest natural capital wealth,” they are at great risk for drought and water shortages, due to their overall large populations and high demand for energy and other natural resources. Additionally, the report found that only 16 states are currently living within their “means” — their supply of natural resources. New York is the state with the lowest ecological footprint per capita, in large part due to its mass transportation system.

A significant deficit in one resource, like water, can have a profound ripple effect across the economy. California’s four-year drought, for instance, has wreaked havoc on the agricultural industry; farm revenue losses are projected to be $1.8 billion, with 8,550 farm jobs lost. The state’s dairy and cattle industries could lose $350 million in revenue this year, NBC reports.

As a country, “we’re well-endowed but we haven’t paid attention much to those [ecological] constraints,” such as water supply, the ability of plant life to absorb excess carbon, availability of wetlands to help control flooding, energy generation, and food production, Mathis Wackernagel, lead author of the report and president of Global Footprint Network, told Fortune.

Some states are ahead of the curve. Idaho, Washington, Oregon, South Dakota, and Maine are all advanced in moving away from fossil fuels, with each producing 60 percent or more of its electricity from renewables. Maryland has pioneered ways of making capital investment decisions. The state looked at future ecological supply and condition scenarios in the decision process to invest in all-electric fleet vehicles as well as an $18 million investment in 3,000 weatherization measures projected to save as much as $69 million in avoided natural gas, electricity, and carbon emission costs over 20 years.

But other states in an ecological deficit will have to begin addressing the problems soon to avoid a big cost in economic problems and human suffering. “The big misconception is you can adjust very quickly to new realities,” Wackernagel said. “But the way we build our transport infrastructure, urban areas, even agriculture, has very slow response rates. You can’t suddenly rebuild a city or refurbish a transportation system.”

The report was created by measuring state populations’ demand for resources and the state’s available natural resources. Rather than using a typical market view of the resources as commodities, the authors used Earth Economics proprietary software that models a fuller view of the role such resources play. For example, trees aren’t just material for wood-based products but also help retain topsoil, reduce flooding, capture carbon, and help cool areas. Human consumption of natural resources for one set of uses reduces their availability for others and potentially helps put a state into ecological deficit.

Having a fuller view of the value of resources enables authorities to make wiser calculations, according to Earth Economics. For instance, after a hurricane, a community or federal agency might have to choose whether to raise a house higher or move it from the flood plane. Using the Earth Economics software, authorities’ analysis would be broader than simply comparing the immediate costs of both options.

“In looking at the benefits [of moving the house], you can reduce repetitive flooding and damage. You can also increase flood storage in that flood plane,” said David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics. However, because of the typical limited view of ecological value, argue the reports’ authors, those calculations are typically not done. That is why some heavily constrained resources — ground water in California, for example — are not monitored or priced at what a full value might be. “Just as in the 1930s we needed measures of GNP [currently GDP], money supply, and unemployment, we now need measurements of natural capital,” Batker said.

“It’s like we think nature is for free,” Wackernagel said. “It’s like someone saying my house is free because I’ve paid it off. But it’s extremely valuable. If you look at the opportunity cost of not having [the ecological resources], it’s amazing. We squander it.” The U.S., however, is not alone in this regard. The world reaches an overall ecological deficit day on August 13, according to Wackernagel.

Scientific Analysis Find Rise In Rapid, Catastrophic, Animal Die-Offs Over The Past 75 Years

In Uncategorized on January 22, 2015 at 5:45 pm

Oldspeak: “Hmm. Curious. The oceans are dying. Scientists have found greater proportions of these die offs among birds, fish, and invertebrates, who just happen to spend most of their time in the oceans.  This data also correlates closely with the what many scientists call “The Great Acceleration”; the time around 1950 to present, characterized by relentless and ever-increasing levels of  human consumption and population and GDP growth. Coincidence? Probably not. All is intimately connected.” -OSJ

By Sarah Yang @ Science Daily:

An analysis of 727 mass die-offs of nearly 2,500 animal species from the past 70 years has found that such events are increasing among birds, fish and marine invertebrates. At the same time, the number of individuals killed appears to be decreasing for reptiles and amphibians, and unchanged for mammals.

Such mass mortality events occur when a large percentage of a population dies in a short time frame. While the die-offs are rare and fall short of extinction, they can pack a devastating punch, potentially killing more than 90 percent of a population in one shot. However, until this study, there had been no quantitative analysis of the patterns of mass mortality events among animals, the study authors noted.

“This is the first attempt to quantify patterns in the frequency, magnitude and cause of such mass kill events,” said study senior author Stephanie Carlson, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

The study, published Monday, Jan. 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by researchers at UC Berkeley, the University of San Diego and Yale University.

The researchers reviewed incidents of mass kills documented in scientific literature. Although they came across some sporadic studies dating back to the 1800s, the analysis focused on the period from 1940 to the present. The researchers acknowledged that some of their findings may be due to an increase in the reporting of mass die-offs in recent decades. But they noted that even after accounting for some of this reporting bias, there was still an increase in mass die-offs for certain animals.

Overall, disease was the primary culprit, accounting for 26 percent of the mass die-offs. Direct effects tied to humans, such as environmental contamination, caused 19 percent of the mass kills. Biotoxicity triggered by events such as algae blooms accounted for a significant proportion of deaths, and processes directly influenced by climate — including weather extremes, thermal stress, oxygen stress or starvation — collectively contributed to about 25 percent of mass mortality events.

The most severe events were those with multiple causes, the study found.

Carlson, a fish ecologist, and her UC Berkeley graduate students had observed such die-offs in their studies of fish in California streams and estuaries, originally piquing their interest in the topic.

“The catastrophic nature of sudden, mass die-offs of animal populations inherently captures human attention,” said Carlson. “In our studies, we have come across mass kills of federal fish species during the summer drought season as small streams dry up. The majority of studies we reviewed were of fish. When oxygen levels are depressed in the water column, the impact can affect a variety of species.”

The study found that the number of mass mortality events has been increasing by about one event per year over the 70 years the study covered.

“While this might not seem like much, one additional mass mortality event per year over 70 years translates into a considerable increase in the number of these events being reported each year,” said study co-lead author Adam Siepielski, an assistant professor of biology at the University of San Diego. “Going from one event to 70 each year is a substantial increase, especially given the increased magnitudes of mass mortality events for some of these organisms.

This study suggests that in addition to monitoring physical changes such as changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, it is important to document the biological response to regional and global environmental change. The researchers highlighted ways to improve documentation of such events in the future, including the possible use of citizen science to record mass mortality events in real time.

“The initial patterns are a bit surprising, in terms of the documented changes to frequencies of occurrences, magnitudes of each event and the causes of mass mortality,” said study co-lead author Samuel Fey, a postdoctoral fellow in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale. “Yet these data show that we have a lot of room to improve how we document and study these types of rare events.”

Funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation helped support this research.

 

Even Climate Change Experts & Activists Might Be In Denial About Ongoing Climate Calamity

In Uncategorized on December 8, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Oldspeak:”Urgent action on climate change is thus to be implemented within a business-as-usual framework of high growth and high consumption, despite growing evidence that such growth doesn’t make us happier and that it is very likely to deliver increasing carbon emissions for years and decades to come. In psychosocial theory these defence mechanisms are also referred to as “splitting”. Consciously we might be talking about the impending sustainability crisis, but unconsciously we find ways to actually maintain the status quo. This is also true for those climate experts who fly around the world, going from one global climate change summit to the next. The very carbon emissions associated with their work can be seen as part of a denial strategy.”-Stephan Bohm & Aanka Batta

“You recently saw a big, showy example of this irrational denial and cognitive dissonance at the “People’s Climate Farce” photo-op and parade and U.N. Climate Summit in New York in September. With less than a few weeks left before the widely scientifically agreed upon deadline of global carbon emissions peaking in 2015 and declining thereafter to have a probably negligible hope of averting the worst effects of climate change, is very, very, very badly missed, I’ve not been sure why the people who know best that the window is about to close are continuing to participate in this latest farcical round of “negotiations” and talks. This piece goes a long way in explaining the psychological roots of these unconscious defense mechanisms and denials of reality. “Ignorance Is Strength.” -OSJ

By Stephan Bohm & Aanka Batta @ The Conversation:

Another month, another important UN climate change conference. The latest is in Lima, the capital of Peru. Thousands of experts from the world of politics, business, academia and civil society – and Leonardo DiCaprio – have flown around the world to urge us all to curb our carbon emissions.

Recent meetings have failed to make significant progress. Yet, this year there are high hopes that the US-China climate deal and the New York UN Climate Summit will allow Lima to provide a stepping stone for a binding emissions agreement at next year’s meeting in Paris.

However, even if a deal can be reached – despite the urgent need for it – there is no guarantee that global greenhouse gas emissions will actually come down significantly and dangerous climate change can be averted. Psychoanalytic theory provides disturbing insights into why this may be so – and it is all to do with the split psychological make-up of those who work at the forefront of climate science, policy and activism.

Climate denial can be unconscious

For at least a century, psychoanalysis has taught us that we might be consciously thinking and saying one thing, but unconsciously doing another. In this context that means people are very consciously aware of the threats posed by climate change, even if they aren’t doing too much about it.

Not a week goes by without the media showing catastrophic images of environmental damage and social suffering seemingly caused by a changing climate. Research suggests that such threats lead us to adopt various unconscious coping and defence mechanisms.

But what to do about it? EPA

Many people try to keep the catastrophe at bay or deny it is happening. Vested interests such as the Koch brothers in the US and other conservative forces have cleverly exploited this unconscious response by supporting a small group of scientists, politicians and think tanks to spread the message of climate scepticism and denial.

This stuff works. Climate denial is undoubtedly on the rise, particularly in those media-saturated markets of North America, Europe and Australia. The Kochs and others are clearly filling a psychological void. Research has also shown that “people want to protect themselves a little bit”, particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty. If climate change simply isn’t happening, there’s nothing to worry about.

Another popular coping and defence mechanism is to pretend that we can address this global and urgent problem by tinkering at the edges of “business as usual”. For example, politicians and business leaders widely believe that we can achieve a decarbonisation of the global economy while maintaining high economic growth. Social psychologist Matthew Adams says such a response is part of an unconscious coping mechanism that simply implies that we have pushed the problem onto a distant future.

As the geographer Erik Swyngedouw shows, climate change politics could in fact be seen as a “post-political” phenomenon where apocalyptic images of environmental destruction and human suffering are used to justify swift action without allowing any real political and economic choices. For example, while on one day the UK government is acknowledging that climate change is already having stark impacts on developing countries by pledging £720m to poor countries, another day of the political calendar is dominated by rhetoric that emphasizes economic growth and even the expansion of the oil and gas industry in the UK.

Urgent action on climate change is thus to be implemented within a business-as-usual framework of high growth and high consumption, despite growing evidence that such growth doesn’t make us happier and that it is very likely to deliver increasing carbon emissions for years and decades to come.

In psychosocial theory these defence mechanisms are also referred to as “splitting”. Consciously we might be talking about the impending sustainability crisis, but unconsciously we find ways to actually maintain the status quo. This is also true for those climate experts who fly around the world, going from one global climate change summit to the next. The very carbon emissions associated with their work can be seen as part of a denial strategy.

In fact, one could argue that those who are very close to the reality of climate change are particularly prone to a need to split their identity. The knowledge they have, and the images they have seen, might unconsciously lead them to the above-mentioned counter-balancing and coping behaviours. Not a good omen for the latest round of climate talks in Peru.

Save The World, Work Less

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2014 at 7:39 pm

Oldspeak: “Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?…. This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically….But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea…It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets….Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes….What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs….Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.” -Steven T. Jones

“While the assertion is nice, the fact is at this point, working less will not save the world. The deed is done. We’re fucked. But, at some point we have to seriously consider where this ethos of “Bigger, Faster, Stronger”, “More, More, More”, “GO GO GO”, “i’ll sleep when i’m dead” has gotten us. Mortally obese, neurosis-driven, overmedicated, hyperviolent, hyperaggressive, hypersexual, hyperconsumptive, fear filled, disconnected from our life-sustaining ecology…. This is not sustainable. Consider getting off the ever accelerating hamster wheel. There is nothing to be gained from working yourself to death but a dead planet and by extension, you. The trickle down economy of greed and growth can no longer animate our “civilization”.  “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” -Karl Marx. “Productivity” does not equal “Progress”. Your individual gains spell our collective annihilation. ” -OSJ

By Steven T. Jones @ SF Bay Guardian:

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs.

Save the world, work less. That dual proposition should have universal appeal in any sane society. And those two ideas are inextricably linked by the realities of global climate change because there is a direct connection between economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions.

Simply put, every hour of work we do cooks the planet and its sensitive ecosystems a little bit more, and going home to relax and enjoy some leisure time is like taking this boiling pot of water off the burner.

Most of us burn energy getting to and from work, stocking and powering our offices, and performing the myriad tasks that translate into digits on our paychecks. The challenge of working less is a societal one, not an individual mandate: How can we allow people to work less and still meet their basic needs?

This goal of slowing down and spending less time at work — as radical as it may sound — was at the center of mainstream American political discourse for much of our history, considered by thinkers of all ideological stripes to be the natural endpoint of technological development. It was mostly forgotten here in the 1940s, strangely so, even as worker productivity increased dramatically.

But it’s worth remembering now that we understand the environmental consequences of our growth-based economic system. Our current approach isn’t good for the health of the planet and its creatures, and it’s not good for the happiness and productivity of overworked Americans, so perhaps it’s time to revisit this once-popular idea.

Last year, there was a brief burst of national media coverage around this “save the world, work less” idea, triggered by a report by the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, entitled “Reduced Work Hours as a Means of Slowing Climate Change.”

“As productivity grows in high-income, as well as developing countries, social choices will be made as to how much of the productivity gains will be taken in the form of higher consumption levels versus fewer work hours,” author David Rosnick wrote in the introduction.

He notes that per capita work hours were reduced by 50 percent in recent decades in Europe compared to US workers who spend as much time as ever on the job, despite being a world leader in developing technologies that make us more productive. Working more means consuming more, on and off the job.

“This choice between fewer work hours versus increased consumption has significant implications for the rate of climate change,” the report said before going on to study various climate change and economic growth models.

It isn’t just global warming that working less will help address, but a whole range of related environmental problems: loss of biodiversity and natural habitat; rapid depletion of important natural resources, from fossil fuel to fresh water; and the pollution of our environment with harmful chemicals and obsolete gadgets.

Every day that the global workforce is on the job, those problems all get worse, mitigated only slightly by the handful of occupations devoted to cleaning up those messes. The Rosnick report contemplates only a slight reduction in working hours, gradually shaving a few hours off the week and offering a little more vacation time.

“The paper estimates the impact on climate change of reducing work hours over the rest of the century by an annual average of 0.5 percent. It finds that 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),” the report concludes.

What I’m talking about is something more radical, a change that meets the daunting and unaddressed challenge that climate change is presenting. Let’s start the discussion in the range of a full day off to cutting our work hours in half — and eliminating half of the wasteful, exploitive, demeaning, make-work jobs that this economy-on-steroids is creating for us, and forcing us to take if we want to meet our basic needs.

Taking even a day back for ourselves and our environment will seem like crazy-talk to many readers, even though our bosses would still command more days each week than we would. But the idea that our machines and other innovations would lead us to work far less than we do now — and that this would be a natural and widely accepted and expected part of economic evolution — has a long and esteemed philosophical history.

Perhaps this forgotten goal is one worth remembering at this critical moment in our economic and environmental development.

HISTORY LESSON

Author and historian Chris Carlsson has been beating the “work less” drum in San Francisco since Jimmy Carter was president, when he and his fellow anti-capitalist activists decried the dawning of an age of aggressive business deregulation that continues to this day.

They responded with creative political theater and protests on the streets of the Financial District, and with the founding of a magazine called Processed World, highlighting how new information technologies were making corporations more powerful than ever without improving the lives of workers.

“What do we actually do all day and why? That’s the most basic question that you’d think we’d be talking about all the time,” Carlsson told us. “We live in an incredibly powerful and overarching propaganda society that tells you to get your joy from work.”

But Carlsson isn’t buying it, noting that huge swaths of the economy are based on exploiting people or the planet, or just creating unproductive economic churn that wastes energy for its own sake. After all, the Gross Domestic Product measures everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

“The logic of growth that underlies this society is fundamentally flawed,” Carlsson said. “It’s the logic of the cancer cell — it makes no sense.”

What makes more sense is to be smart about how we’re using our energy, to create an economy that economizes instead of just consuming everything in its path. He said that we should ask, “What work do we need to do and to what end?”

We used to ask such questions in this country. There was a time when working less was the goal of our technological development.

“Throughout the 19th century, and well into the 20th, the reduction of worktime was one of the nation’s most pressing issues,” professor Juliet B. Schor wrote in her seminal 1991 book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. “Through the Depression, hours remained a major social preoccupation. Today these debates and conflicts are long forgotten.”

Work hours were steadily reduced as these debates raged, and it was widely assumed that even greater reductions in work hours was all but inevitable. “By today, it was estimated that we could have either a 22-hour week, a six-month workyear, or a standard retirement age of 38,” Schor wrote, citing a 1958 study and testimony to Congress in 1967.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, declining work hours leveled off in the late 1940s even as worker productivity grew rapidly, increasing an average of 3 percent per year 1948-1968. Then, in the 1970s, workers in the US began to work steadily more hours each week while their European counterparts moved in the opposite direction.

“People tend to think the way things are is the way it’s always been,” Carlsson said. “Once upon a time, they thought technology would produce more leisure time, but that didn’t happen.”

Writer David Spencer took on the topic in a widely shared essay published in The Guardian UK in February entitled “Why work more? We should be working less for a better quality of life: Our society tolerates long working hours for some and zero hours for others. This doesn’t make sense.”

He cites practical benefits of working less, from reducing unemployment to increasing the productivity and happiness of workers, and cites a long and varied philosophical history supporting this forgotten goal, including opposing economists John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx.

Keynes called less work the “ultimate solution” to unemployment and he “also saw merit in using productivity gains to reduce work time and famously looked forward to a time (around 2030) when people would be required to work 15 hours a week. Working less was part of Keynes’s vision of a ‘good society,'” Spencer wrote.

“Marx importantly thought that under communism work in the ‘realm of necessity’ could be fulfilling as it would elicit and harness the creativity of workers. Whatever irksome work remained in realm of necessity could be lessened by the harnessing of technology,” Spencer wrote.

He also cited Bertrand Russell’s acclaimed 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” in which the famed mathematician reasoned that working a four-hour day would cure many societal ills. “I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached,” Russell wrote.

Spencer concluded his article by writing, “Ultimately, the reduction in working time is about creating more opportunities for people to realize their potential in all manner of activities including within the work sphere. Working less, in short, is about allowing us to live more.”

JOBS VS. WORK

Schor’s research has shown how long working hours — and the uneven distribution of those hours among workers — has hampered our economy, hurt our environment, and undermined human happiness.

“We have an increasingly poorly functioning economy and a catastrophic environmental situation,” Schor told us in a phone interview from her office at Boston College, explaining how the increasingly dire climate change scenarios add urgency to talking about how we’re working.

Schor has studied the problem with other researchers, with some of her work forming the basis for Rosnick’s work, including the 2012 paper Schor authored with University of Alabama Professor Kyle Knight entitled “Could working less reduce pressures on the environment?” The short answer is yes.

“As humanity’s overshoot of environmental limits become increasingly manifest and its consequences become clearer, more attention is being paid to the idea of supplanting the pervasive growth paradigm of contemporary societies,” the report says.

The United States seems to be a case study for what’s wrong.

“There’s quite a bit of evidence that countries with high annual work hours have much higher carbon emissions and carbon footprints,” Schor told us, noting that the latter category also takes into account the impacts of the products and services we use. And it isn’t just the energy we expend at work, but how we live our stressed-out personal lives.

“If households have less time due to hours of work, they do things in a more carbon-intensive way,” Schor said, with her research finding those who work long hours often tend to drive cars by themselves more often (after all, carpooling or public transportation take time and planning) and eat more processed foods.

Other countries have found ways of breaking this vicious cycle. A generation ago, Schor said, the Netherlands began a policy of converting many government jobs to 80 percent hours, giving employees an extra day off each week, and encouraging many private sector employers to do the same. The result was happier employees and a stronger economy.

“The Netherlands had tremendous success with their program and they’ve ended up with the highest labor productivity in Europe, and one of the happiest populations,” Schor told us. “Working hours is a triple dividend policy change.”

By that she means that reducing per capita work hours simultaneously lowers the unemployment rate by making more jobs available, helps address global warming and other environmental challenges, and allows people to lead happier lives, with more time for family, leisure, and activities of their choosing.

Ironically, a big reason why it’s been so difficult for the climate change movement to gain traction is that we’re all spending too much time and energy on making a living to have the bandwidth needed to sustain a serious and sustained political uprising.

When I presented this article’s thesis to Bill McKibben, the author and activist whose 350.org movement is desperately trying to prevent carbon concentrations in the atmosphere from passing critical levels, he said, “If people figure out ways to work less at their jobs, I hope they’ll spend some of their time on our too-often neglected work as citizens. In particular, we need a hell of a lot of people willing to devote some time to breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry.”

world

That’s the vicious circle we now find ourselves in. There is so much work to do in addressing huge challenges such as global warming and transitioning to more sustainable economic and energy systems, but we’re working harder than ever just to meet our basic needs — usually in ways that exacerbate these challenges.

“I don’t have time for a job, I have too much work to do,” is the dilemma facing Carlsson and others who seek to devote themselves to making the world a better place for all living things.

To get our heads around the problem, we need to overcome the mistaken belief that all jobs and economic activity are good, a core tenet of Mayor Ed Lee’s economic development policies and his relentless “jobs agenda” boosterism and business tax cuts. Not only has the approach triggered the gentrification and displacement that have roiled the city’s political landscape in the last year, but it relies on a faulty and overly simplistic assumption: All jobs are good for society, regardless of their pay or impact on people and the planet.

Lee’s mantra is just the latest riff on the fabled Protestant work ethic, which US conservatives and neoliberals since the Reagan Era have used to dismantle the US welfare system, pushing the idea that it’s better for a single mother to flip our hamburgers or scrub our floors than to get the assistance she needs to stay home and take care of her own home and children.

“There is a belief that work is the best form of welfare and that those who are able to work ought to work. This particular focus on work has come at the expense of another, far more radical policy goal, that of creating ‘less work,'” Spencer wrote in his Guardian essay. “Yet…the pursuit of less work could provide a better standard of life, including a better quality of work life.”

And it may also help save us from environmental catastrophe.

GLOBAL TIPPING POINT

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top research body on the issue recognized by the United Nations, recently released its fifth report summarizing and analyzing the science and policies around climate change, striking a more urgent tone than in previous reports.

On April 13 at a climate conference in Berlin, the panel released a new report noting that greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than ever and urgent action is needed in the next decade to avert a serious crisis.

“We cannot afford to lose another decade,” Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist and co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report, told The New York Times. “If we lose another decade, it becomes extremely costly to achieve climate stabilization.”

After the panel released an earlier section of the report on March 31, it wrote in a public statement: “The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises.”

The known impacts will be displaced populations in poor countries inundated by rising seas, significant changes to life-supporting ecosystems (such as less precipitation in California and other regions, creating possible fresh water shortages), food shortages from loss of agricultural land, and more extreme weather events.

What we don’t yet know, these “surprises,” could be even scarier because this is such uncharted territory. Never before have human activities had such an impact on the natural world and its delicate balances, such as in how energy circulates through the world’s oceans and what it means to disrupt half of the planet’s surface area.

Researchers have warned that we could be approaching a “global tipping point,” in which the impact of climate change affects other systems in the natural world and threatens to spiral out of control toward another mass extinction. And a new report funded partially by the National Science Foundation and NASA’s Goodard Space Center combines the environmental data with growing inequities in the distribution of wealth to warn that modern society as we know it could collapse.

“The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent,” the report warned.

It cites two critical features that have triggered most major societal collapses in past, both of which are increasingly pervasive problems today: “the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity”; and “the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or ‘Commoners’),” which makes it more difficult to deal with problems that arise.

Both of these problems would be addressed by doing less overall work, and distributing the work and the rewards for that work more evenly.

SYSTEMIC PROBLEM

Carol Zabin — research director for the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, who has studied the relation between jobs and climate change — has some doubts about the strategy of addressing global warming by reducing economic output and working less.

“Economic activity which uses energy is not immediately correlated with work hours,” she told us, noting that some labor-saving industrial processes use more energy than human-powered alternatives. And she also said that, “some leisure activities could be consumptive activities that are just as bad or worse than work.”

She does concede that there is a direct connection between energy use and climate change, and that most economic activity uses energy. Zabin also said there was a clear and measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the Great Recession that began with the 2008 economic crash, when economic growth stalled and unemployment was high.

“When we’re in recessions and output and consumption slow, we see a reduction in impact on the climate,” Zabin said, although she added, “They’re correlated, but they’re not causal.”

Other studies have made direct connections between work and energy use, at least when averaged out across the population, studies that Rosnick cited in his study. “Recent work estimated that a 1 percent increase in annual hours per employee is associated with a 1.5 percent increase in carbon footprint,” it said, citing the 2012 Knight study.

Zabin’s main stumbling block was a political one, rooted in the assumption that American-style capitalism, based on conspicuous consumption, would continue more or less as is. “Politically, reducing economic growth is really, really unviable,” she told us, noting how that would hurt the working class.

But again, doesn’t that just assume that the pain of an economic slowdown couldn’t be more broadly shared, with the rich absorbing more of the impact than they have so far? Can’t we move to an economic system that is more sustainable and more equitable?

“It seems a little utopian when we have a problem we need to address by reducing energy use,” Zabin said before finally taking that next logical step: “If we had socialism and central planning, we could shut the whole thing down a notch.”

Instead, we have capitalism, and she said, “we have a climate problem that is probably not going to be solved anyway.”

So we have capitalism and unchecked global warming, or we can have a more sustainable system and socialism. Hmm, which one should we pick? European leaders have already started opting for the latter option, slowing down their economic output, reducing work hours, and substantially lowering the continent’s carbon footprint.

That brings us back to the basic question set forth in the Rosnick study: As productivity increases, should those gains go to increase the wages of workers or to reduce their hours? From the perspective of global warming, the answer is clearly the latter. But that question is complicated in US these days by the bosses, investors, and corporations keeping the productivity gains for themselves.

“It is worth noting 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 that type of economy, the majority of workers would have to take an absolute reduction in their living standards in order to 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,” the study concludes.

So it appears we have some work to do, and that starts with making a connection between Earth Day and May Day.

EARTH DAY TO MAY DAY

The Global Climate Convergence (www.globalclimateconvergence.org [2]) grew out of a Jan. 18 conference in Chicago that brought together a variety of progressive, environmental, and social justice groups to work together on combating climate change. They’re planning “10 days to change course,” a burst of political organizing and activism between Earth Day and May Day, highlighting the connection between empowering workers and saving the planet.

“It provides coordinated action and collaboration across fronts of struggle and national borders to harness the transformative power we already possess as a thousand separate movements. These grassroots justice movements are sweeping the globe, rising up against the global assault on our shared economy, ecology, peace and democracy. The accelerating climate disaster, which threatens to unravel civilization as soon as 2050, intensifies all of these struggles and creates new urgency for collaboration and unified action. Earth Day to May Day 2014 (April 22 — May 1) will be the first in a series of expanding annual actions,” the group announced.

San Mateo resident Ragina Johnson, who is coordinating events in the Bay Area, told us May Day, the international workers’ rights holiday, grew out of the struggle for the eight-hour workday in the United States, so it’s appropriate to use the occasion to call for society to slow down and balance the demands of capital with the needs of the people and the planet.

“What we’re seeing now is an enormous opportunity to link up these movements,” she told us. “It has really put us on the forefront of building a new progressive left in this country that takes on these issues.”

In San Francisco, she said the tech industry is a ripe target for activism.

“Technology has many employees working 60 hours a week, and what is the technology going to? It’s going to bottom line profits instead of reducing people’s work hours,” she said.

That’s something the researchers have found as well.

“Right now, the problem is workers aren’t getting any of those productivity gains, it’s all going to capital,” Schor told us. “People don’t see the connection between the maldistribution of hours and high unemployment.”

She said the solution should involve “policies that make it easier to work shorter hours and still meet people’s basic needs, and health insurance reform is one of those.”

Yet even the suggestion that reducing work hours might be a worthy societal goal makes the head of conservatives explode. When the San Francisco Chronicle published an article about how “working a bit less” could help many people qualify for healthcare subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (“Lower 2014 income can net huge health care subsidy,” 10/12/13), the right-wing blogosphere went nuts decrying what one site called the “toxic essence of the welfare state.”

Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders parroted the criticism in her Feb. 7 column. “The CBO had determined that ‘workers will choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.’ To many Democrats, apparently, that’s all good,” she wrote of Congressional Budget Office predictions that Obamacare could help reduce hours worked.

Not too many Democratic politicians have embraced the idea of working less, but maybe they should if we’re really going to attack climate change and other environmental challenges. Capitalism has given us great abundance, more than we need and more than we can safely sustain, so let’s talk about slowing things down.

“There’s a huge amount of work going on in society that nobody wants to do and nobody should do,” Carlsson said, imagining a world where economic desperation didn’t dictate the work we do. “Most of us would be free to do what we want to do, and most of us would do useful things.”

And what about those who would choose idleness and sloth? So what? At this point, Mother Earth would happily trade her legions of crazed workaholics for a healthy population of slackers, those content to work and consume less.

Maybe someday we’ll even look back and wonder why we ever considered greed and overwork to be virtues, rather than valuing a more healthy balance between our jobs and our personal lives, our bosses and our families, ourselves and the natural world that sustains us.

With climate change threatening life as we know it, perhaps it’s time to revive the forgotten goal of spending less time on our jobs