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Want To Save The Environment? Work Fewer Hours, Says UN

Work less—if you care about the planet that is

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According to the United Nations, all we need to do to save the environment is scale back our workweek. Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but working fewer hours means reducing our consumption of raw materials and upping efficiency.


In a report released by the U.N.’s International Resource Panel on Wednesday, we’ve tripled our use of raw materials over the past 40 years. But how much is that exactly? According to the report, 70 billion tons of raw materials were extracted from the Earth in 2010, a shocking increase compared to the 22 billion extracted in 1970.

An expanding global middle class means we’ll have to drastically rethink the way we gather resources if we want to prevent total environmental collapse. However, the report explains that gains in efficiency could lead to lower costs, which will only escalate overall demand—something that is not so great for a sustainable economy and environment.

In a statement, panel co-chair Alicia Barcena Ibarra put it this way: “Rethinking the way we use materials is essential if we are to safeguard humanity's future. A prosperous and equitable world that overcomes these problems will require transformative changes in how we live our lives and how we consume materials.” One of those proposals is to price raw materials in accordance with the largely unseen social and economic costs, which would inevitably shift the way we think about this planet’s resources.

So, how soon can we start enforcing a 20-hour workweek? With the global population expanding at its current pace, we’d better put some changes in place by 2050, the year ABC News reports the world is projected to need three times as many raw materials as we’re currently consuming today. And with the world’s most affluent countries consuming 10 times as much as the poorest ones, change has to come swiftly unless we plan on thoroughly depleting the Earth’s natural resources.

The good news? It’s not too late.

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