Three weeks ago, in response to the IPCC report warning that CO2 emissions had to be reduced to 45% of their 2010 levels by 2030 to avoid the possibility of global temperature rising above 1.5°C, I posted “The IPCC 1.5° C Report and the Ten-Hour Week,” (also posted at Angry Bear) which offered the sketch of a plan for how to do that. I have no illusions that the IPCC or any other prestigious organization will latch on to this idea and seek to flesh it out with concrete policy proposals. In some respects, I offered the Ten-Hour Week more as a thought experiment, a way of thinking about the scope and scale of effort required.
I still think it is a damn good way to think about the problem and actually would be worthy of elaboration if only it wasn’t “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Several of my subsequent EconoSpeak posts — “The Political Economy of the Working Class” “Absolute Decoupling and Relative Surplus Value: Rectification of Names” “Business As Usual: Running on Empty” and “Scratch That” — have in fact been elaborations on the Ten-Hour Week thought experiment and the issues it raises.
I also posted it to the sustainable consumption discussion list, SCORAI, where it got some very perceptive questions from participants. With permission, I am posting the questions and answers below. Thanks for questions, comments and permission to Thomas Love, Professor of Anthropology, Linfield College, Oregon; John de Graaf, film maker and co-author of Affluenza, Seattle, Washington; Anna Berka, Research Fellow, Energy Centre, University of Auckland Business School, New Zealand; and William Rees, Professor Emeritus Faculty of Applied Science School of Community of Regional Planning, UBC, Vancouver, BC.
Thanks Tom Walker for a compelling thought experiment. Interestingly compatible with the analysis David Graeber takes in his recent Bullshit Jobs, wondering about the nature of work in late capitalism and why we work so hard, even when over a third of people in the UK and the Netherlands report that their work (for which they are sometimes well remunerated) makes no difference in the world. The work week could be drastically shrunk with little apparent effect on overall economic performance.
But I’m missing a step in your thinking here. The kinds of bullshit jobs Graeber documents are almost all white collar bureaucratic positions, whether private or public. So even taking all your simplifying assumptions into account, why would emissions reduce by a rate corresponding to hours worked? Presumably agricultural and industrial labor would proceed pretty much as is, in current quantities, no?
John de Graff:
I hope Tom [Walker] won’t mind my jumping in here. The bureaucratic jobs you mention pay better than many of the production jobs and the people who have them then spend on all sorts of consumer products, travel etc. It’s the total compensation/spending (eg. per capita GDP) that has the strongest connection to carbon footprint since there is no absolute de-coupling at all, and with relative decoupling, ecological and carbon footprints continue to rise (albeit more slowly) as GDP increases. The spending of the white collar workers drives the increases in production of the agricultural and industrial laborers. It may not be a 1:1 effect, but Tom is absolutely right here. A cut in these bullshit jobs will render much overproduction untenable, forcing shorter working hours in the ag and industrial sectors to prevent massive unemployment. Am I getting this right, Tom?