Longer work hours may warm climate

U.S. employees work an average of 16 percent more hours per year than most of their European counterparts do—often with no increased productivity—a new study notes. A longer workday requires more energy for heat, light, and power, and the atmospheric emissions from that extra energy use contribute substantially to U.S. releases of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.

U.S. workers typically labor some 1,817 hours per year, compared with 1,560 hours per year among Europeans, who have shorter workdays and more vacation.

“If the United States had adopted European standards for work hours, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2000 would have been 7 percent lower than its actual 1990 emissions,” conclude report authors David Rosnick and Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

They note that other developed nations are moving toward U.S. labor habits. In Europe, this could increase energy consumption by 30 percent. Rosnick and Weisbrot calculate that “if, by 2050, the world works as many hours as do Americans … [t]he additional carbon emissions could result in 1° to 2°C in extra global warming.”

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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