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Climate Change Solution: More Time Off!

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The 'Gloom and Doom' Profession

Have you ever talked with someone that you would have liked to draw into the EDM profession, but had them throw back at you: "You guys are just all about hopelessness and despair. Why should I sign up for a professions that's a complete downer?"

Fair analysis! Sometimes we need to step back and see another side of what we do. The lighter side of EDM. The optimistic side. The heroic side. So, with some tongue-in-cheek (but not a lot!), the following analysis is presented for your consideration.

The 40-Hour Workweek

The 40-hour workweek is so deeply ingrained in our culture it's often difficult to remember how we got it and whether or not there are alternatives. And we don't think to ask.

How did we get here? Well, the concept began in England when the standard workweek entailed 10 - 16 hours per day, six days per week. It was a radical concept to prohibit working more than 10 hours per day, but eventually, persistence for workers rights resulted in the eight-hour day. The story of the five-day workweek is similar -- it was first instituted in the U.S. in 1908 when employers could not discriminate between the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday and the Christian day of rest on Sunday, so employers granted both days off. And that's how eight hours per day, five days per week became the norm.

The interesting part is that all of these advances in the work week occurred between 1810 and 1908, and haven't been updated since. However, society has been updated since, in many ways -- changing from an agriculture to manufacturing economy, changing from a manufacturing to a knowledge and service economy, etc. Maybe it's time the workweek caught up.

Doing it Differently

Hard as it is to believe, the whole world does not embrace the 40-hour workweek, which equates to roughly 2000 hours per year. Standard workweeks range from 1550 for Sweden to 2700 for Korea. The kicker in this analysis would be the World Happiness Index, where Sweden ranks 10th and Korea ranks 58th.

I didn't go through a country-by-country analysis, but I would be willing to wager that a country's happiness is correlated to the length of its workweek, among many other factors, of course. This would be called a multi-variate analysis, which I shuddered about and never used again after college, but something that many scholars find to be fun.

So What's the Rationale?

Enter climate change. Back in the day when quality of life depended on spewing massive quantities of industrial pollutants into the air, burying them in the ground or dumping them in the river--the calculation for the longest workweek possible, limited flexibility, limited workers' rights, and so on made a certain level of sense.

Arguably, it doesn't any more. Farming is pretty much automated. Manufacturing is pretty much automated. These two industries take care of most of our needs. Both farming and manufacturing face their own climate change issues, but that's not the point here. The point here is the workweek.

The interface between climate change and the workweek is pretty straightforward. As an example, if you have to keep an office building open and at an acceptable working environment for five days, then that requires more energy than if you have to keep it acceptable for four days. That has the potential -- it's not a certainty, but has the potential to -- reduce energy consumption in office buildings by as much as 20 percent. And one of the greatest ways to reduce global warming is through conservation.

Here's one analysis, aptly titled the 'bank holiday' solution.

Granted, this won't work for police and fire, or any face-to-face service industry for that matter -- someone needs to be on duty to make the function work. But what about everything else? Could your contribution to the well-being of humanity be improved by a shorter workday? Others around the world are making it work. So why not?

Randall Cuthbert Dr. Randall Cuthbert is a retired APUS Professor of Emergency & Disaster Management. He has also worked as a Red Cross Shelter Supervisor, and spent a 20-year career as a US Air Force Civil Engineer Officer. His blogging interests include: protecting & enhancing the EDM profession in the areas of integrity, honorable public service, and social justice; education regarding the 'big picture' role of EDM in our society; educating our professionals and neighbors with regard to the greatest threat to our civilization--climate change; and in general terms, creating a better world for our children and grandchildren.