The more time a person has, the better his or her quality of life, and the easier it is to live sustainably. A study by David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that if the United States were to shift to the working patterns of Western European countries, where workers spend on average 255 fewer hours per year at their jobs, energy consumption would decline about 20 percent. New research I have conducted with Kyle Knight and Gene Rosa of Washington State University, looking at all industrialized countries over the last 50 years, finds that nations with shorter working hours have considerably smaller ecological and carbon footprints.
There’s also a small but growing body of studies that examine these questions at the household scale. A French study found that, after controlling for income, households with longer working hours increased their spending on housing (buying larger homes with more appliances), transport (longer hours reduced the use of public transportation), and hotels and restaurants.
A recent Swedish study found that when households reduce their working hours by 1 percent, their greenhouse gas emissions go down by 0.8 percent. One explanation is that when households spend more time earning money, they compensate in part by purchasing more goods and services, and buying them at later stages of processing (e.g., more prepared foods). People who have more time at home and less at work can engage in slower, less resource-intensive activities. They can hang their clothing on the line, rather than use an electric dryer. More important, they can switch to less energy-intensive but more time-consuming modes of transport (mass transit or carpool versus private auto, train versus airplane). They can garden and cook at home. They can meet more of their basic needs by making, fixing, doing, and providing things themselves.
Doing-it-yourself, or self-provisioning, is now on the rise, both because of a culture shift and because in hard times people have more time and less money.