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Long U.S. Work Hours Are Bad for the Environment, Study Shows

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December 20, 2006

Long U.S. Work Hours Are Bad for the Environment, Study Shows

For Immediate Release: December 20, 2006

Contact: Dan Beeton, 202-293-5380 x104; 202-256-6116 (cell)
             Mark Weisbrot, 202-746-7264

Washington - If the world works as many hours as Americans currently do, it would consume 15-30 percent more energy by 2050 than it would by following Europe's model, according to a paper by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

"Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment? A Comparison of U.S. and European Energy Consumption," by researcher David Rosnick and economist Mark Weisbrot, looks at the potential environmental effects of European and other countries adopting the U.S. norm of longer work hours. The authors find that the implications for global climate change could be significant.

"Old Europe" currently consumes about half as much energy per person as does the United States. If Europe were to adopt U.S. practices and increase annual work hours to American levels, the paper shows, they could consume some 30 percent more energy than they do at present. Not only could that impact fuel prices worldwide, but the resulting carbon emissions would make it far more difficult for the EU to meet its commitments to the Kyoto Protocol.

"The implications of adopting the U.S. model of longer work hours and more energy usage extend beyond Europe," said Mark Weisbrot, CEPR co-director and co-author of the paper. "There could be an even greater environmental impact since as the economies of developing countries grow, those nations look to either the U.S. or to European economic models."

The report outlines how worldwide energy patterns could be dependent on which model developing countries choose in the next few decades. If all countries worked as many hours per week as U.S. workers do, the additional carbon emissions could substantially increase the pace of global warming.

Alternately, there is the possibility of the reverse outcome: that the United States could move more in the direction of Europe's fewer work hours, which would significantly reduce energy consumption.