There are a couple of simple ideas, which if implemented could make deep and long term cuts in our carbon emissions, while maintaining (or even increasing) the quality of life for all.
In no particular order, they are:
1. Immediately Implement a 4 day week (with obvious exceptions for emergency services etc.)
In 2008 Utah,spurred on initially by high gas prices and later by impacts from the global fiscal crisis, decided to do just this. One of the most conservative states in the US (approx. 60% of the population are Mormons) implemented one of the most radical solutions to the problems it faced – a mandatory 4 day week for 80% of state employees. Hours were changed from a 9-5 5 day week to an 8-6 4 day week.The results have been startling.
- After initial fears, 82% of employees are supportive of the four day week, and do not want to return to a 5 day week (with a 3 day weekend, who would?)
- Sick days taken fell by 9%
- Air pollution fell as people were spending 20% less time commuting
- Approx. 17,000 (13% of the total) tonnes of CO2 emissions were avoided
While many organisations promoting sustainability are busy promoting radical solutions like ‘Prosperity without Growth‘ or a ‘21 hour working week‘, the simplest and fastest way to reduce carbon emissions and increase quality of life at the same time is being overlooked – the immediate implementation of a 4 day week – and we have the results from Utah to prove it.
2. Deep and Meaningful Reform of the Financial System
The repeal by the United States of elements of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 is one act of lunacy that should be reversed as soon as possible. Glass-Steagal was enacted in 1933, and as well as establishing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, it prevented banks from purchasing other financial companies, ensuring a separation of commercial banking and the securities industry. Repealing this and allowing the sedate world of mortgage lending and the heady greed of Wall Street to meet led to the unrestrained casino capitalism of the noughties, with catastrophic consequences. Bringing back the firewalls that used to exist between normal mortgage and business lending by retail banks, and the ‘exotic’ financial instruments and shady business practices of the Wall Street sharks, is of the utmost importance.
While regulating banks may not be the most exciting way of fighting climate change, we simply cannot afford to have to bail out the banks again. With the cost of dealing with the current crisis being counted in the trillions, the amount spent to date on the banks dwarfs the spending on mitigating and adapting to climate change.
With this in mind, the second element of reforming the banking system should be a tax on speculative banking transactions – a Tobin Tax. This cause is one I had the opportunity to speak to Gordon Brown about shortly before the Copenhagen Conference – you can listen to his response here at about 26 minutes 30 seconds in. This cause has recently been taken up by Richard Curtis (of Comic Relief and Make Poverty History Fame) and has led to this rather effective ad, and also the rebranding of the ‘Tobin Tax’ as the ‘Robin Hood Tax’. Using the funds raised from this to combat poverty, pay down the national debt and fight climate change would give society some return on the trillions that have been thrown at the banks.
3. Reducing Obsolescence for Consumer Goods
This idea is simple – for cheaper/smaller consumer items a no quibble 5 year guarantee should be mandatory. For larger items like fridges, cars etc. a ten year guarantee.
Interestingly, I can find almost nothing on this online – no groups promoting it, no blogs suggesting it, no news items covering it as a suggested solution to climate. It seems the disposable consumer society has become deeply ingrained in the global psyche!
So there you have it – 3 ideas that could contribute to fighting climate change, and that would maintain or increase people’s quality of life – a 4 day week, a return on our taxes that have been thrown at the banks (along with measures to prevent the same mistakes happening again…) and an end to the throwaway culture of rampant consumerism with a decent guarantee mandated by law for all products.