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Work less, save the planet
Is the four-day work week a climate solution?
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It’s been touted as a solution to boost productivity and combat persistent work-life balance woes: the four-day work week. This involves slashing one workday from the weekly schedule without slashing pay, and was first catapulted to global attention in 2018 thanks to one Kiwi businessman giving the idea a crack. Since then, companies around the world have trialled the concept, including a successful pilot at Unilever NZ.
While ostensibly about worker wellbeing, a trial involving more than 60 UK companies across six months in 2022 suggests working less could have environmental benefits too. The four-day work week not only boosted productivity, but also reduced carbon footprints. “Although climate benefits are the most challenging thing to measure, we have a lot of research showing that over time, as countries reduce hours of work, their carbon emissions fall. A 10% reduction in hours is associated to an 8.6% fall in carbon footprint,” Juliet Schor, an economist and sociologist at Boston College, told BBC Future. In the trial, people spent less time commuting, resulting in a drop of around one-fifth in miles travelled by car. Companies also registered a decrease in energy needs related to storing and sending data – it seems that with less time in the office, people weren’t faffing about with inefficient emailing back and forth as much.
But what about that extra weekend day? Some worry that the newfound freedom might entice people to pursue less sustainable pastimes – like jumping on a flight to travel more often. It’s possible, but evidence is a little thin on the ground. In general, weekend emissions tend to be lower than weekdays. Some argue that the expanded personal time and space encourages people to engage in slower-paced sustainable activities, like cycling or walking to get places, or volunteering for the planet. Here in New Zealand, when Covid-19 lockdowns meant we left our cars in the garage, carbon emissions dropped. A 2021 report found that a four-day work week, if implemented by 2025, would save the UK 127 million tonnes of carbon emissions – a reduction of more than 20%, equivalent to taking around 27 million cars off the road.
We probably need more data to quantify just how big an impact a four-day work week might have on climate action, especially here in New Zealand. But I think it’s a great example of how climate solutions don’t have to be sacrifices. We can imagine a life where we work less, stress less, have more free time and tread lighter on the earth. Sounds like it’s worth giving the three-day weekend a whirl.
Water heating is one of the biggest contributors to home energy bills, not helped by the fact that most hot water cylinders in New Zealand can be heated up at any time of day, including peak times when power prices are at their highest. Electric Kiwi set out to save customers money on the cost of hot water heating by moving energy usage off-peak without giving anyone a cold shower – and the results are great.
Blocking traffic is annoying – but is it an effective form of protest?
Restore Passenger Rail protestors have blocked multiple roads in Wellington in recent weeks, disrupting traffic to bring attention to their cause. It’s a divisive style of climate activism that the wider public tends to dislike, but some claim the scale of the climate problem necessitates such resistance. In the UK, the Extinction Rebellion group has shifted away from disruptive protests, with their most recent action attracting an estimated 60,000 people – and no arrests. Other groups, like Just Stop Oil, are continuing with tactics like traffic blockades and defacing art. But do these actually achieve activists’ aims, or just serve to alienate people from the cause? This BBC Future article examines the evidence.
Should we incinerate rubbish instead of burying it?
The Kaipara District Council is investigating the feasibility of a waste-to-energy plant, as an alternative to a controversial landfill at Dome Valley north of Auckland, Jonathan Killick reports for Stuff. Multiple groups have opposed the landfill at the Environment Court, citing environmental concerns including possible impacts on the Hoteo River catchment and Kaipara Harbour. A waste-to-energy plant incinerates rubbish to generate electricity, but the resulting air-polluting chemicals and contaminated ash mean the alternative waste disposal method faces opposition too.
Two tales of rewilding
The Netherlands has constructed a 1,300-hectare archipelago out of dredged mud and sand in an effort to revive a dying lake. But it’s not strictly “rewilding” or even “restoration”: these islands never existed before. Has this manmade attempt to right ecological wrongs improved the lake’s ecosystem?
Closer to home, Lily Duval documents community groups in Ōtautahi Christchurch “finding their wild side” as part of the city’s post-earthquake glow-up. I’m particularly excited about the red-zone-turned-wetland and its 11km-long city-to-sea walkway.
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Newsroom’s Marc Daalder outlines what you need to know about the Climate Change Commission’s latest (draft) package of advice, released last week
A fantastic interactive quiz from NPR that explains how geographically remote climate impacts can actually be connected
The EU has approved the world’s first carbon border tax on imports with higher carbon emissions
Researchers have created a vegan leather-like material that can self heal, using fungi
Why your future vehicle probably won’t run on used cooking oil
Long read from Desmog on ag industry PR efforts to make meat and dairy seem good for the planet – including mention of industry-funded research from New Zealand. (On a related note, the US dairy industry’s attempt to woo the youth away from oat milk with actress Aubrey Plaza in a “wood milk” spoof has hilariously backfired)
I love the lush green of a forest cloaked in moss. Now, there’s even more reason to love a patch of soft moss: this humble plant harbours a suite of climate superpowers including sequestering carbon, preventing erosion, nutrient cycling, and control of pathogens harmful to both other plants and people. “We were gobsmacked to find that mosses were doing all these amazing things,” says Dr David Eldridge, lead author of the global study into mosses. “Without moss, our ecosystems would be in big trouble.”
Make the moss outta this week,
Got some feedback about Future Proof or topics you’d like covered? Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org