A study by the University of Massachusetts states that “working less is good for the environment”. If we would spend 10% less of our time at work, our footprint on the earth would be reduced by 14.6%, mainly thanks to the decrease in travelling and daily expenses.
There are two contradictory theories on this idea:
- wages may remain unchanged and the economy would continue to grow thanks to the technological and energetic improvements despite the reduction in working time; this theory explains us that pollution could be reduced thanks to the change in daily habits, such as the preparation of your own meals at home instead of buying food already prepared or prepared by others;
- only by reducing wages we will achieve a significant reduction in the ecological footprint by 2050. This is the theory of degrowth that supports the fact that only with less money available the consumption of material goods can be reduced and consequently there will be a corresponding reduction of the pollution and use of resources. In practise, it means that by working four days, you would receive a salary equivalent to four days.
I would like to focus on degrowth because I support this approach. It seems clear to me that by continuing in this way the human kind will encounter a rapid depletion of available resources which will cause a sudden and uncontrollable decline of the population and of the productive capacity of the industries. The degrowth theory is certainly radical and to some it seems heretical. However, an OECD report says that consumption has increased by 50% in the past 30 years and that this goes hand in hand with an increase of the environmental footprint. The degrowth theory stipulates that a progressive decrease in consumption should begin by starting with a reduction in working time.
Serge Latouche, economist among the founding fathers of the degrowth theory, explains that degrowth does not mean weakening or suffering. It rather means transforming the concept of consumption into that of use: I buy something because I need it, if it breaks I have it repaired ( or repair it by myself) and, at the end of its lifecycle, I recycle it. It also means shifting attention from quantity to quality. The result will be a materially responsible society.
Degrowth is also a praise of slowness and duration; learning from the past; awareness that there is no progress without conservation; indifference to fashions and ephemeral; draw on the knowledge of tradition; not identifying the new with the best, the old with the outdated; do not call buyers the consumers , because the purpose of purchasing is not consumption but, as I said before, use.
So why working less and earning less? If the consumption for leisure or pleasure activities would increase thanks to a shorter working week, there would be a significant increase in the ecological footprint. This is why the reduction in working time must be accompanied by a reduction of wages. However, we would have more time for us, to dedicate to our personal growth, which does not only mean fun or leisure activities.
The crucial choice of our times, therefore, is between urgently committing ourselves to embark on the path of sobriety at all levels or going at full speed towards the depletion of resources and the global collapse of our system, which nobody hopes for.
In these difficult times, with the rapid spread of a virus that threatens our lives and frightens us, we could seriously begin to reflect on a different future for us all.
What do you think about it? Would you be willing to work less, gaining less and consuming less (but using more), thus starting a path towards a more committed society, different from the way we know it today?