The events of the past few yearsâ€”financial meltdown of 2008, the failed Copenhagen talks and increasing climate destabilization, the BP oil disaster, and the financial crises in the Eurozoneâ€”make it clear that the business-as-usual economy is both wreaking havoc on the planet and failing on its own terms. But so far, the conversation about how to transform this economic model has been stuck in neutral. Traveling around North America discussing my new book, Plenitude, I am increasingly convinced that a key obstacle to moving forward is a lack of confidence that there is another way. To gain that confidence, we need to articulate a model of how a sustainable economy could work.
The core insight of my model is the need to transform how people spend their time. Its first principle is to reverse the increased in time devoted to the market that has occurred in recent decades. (The US, most of the global South and some OECD countries have experienced rising hours.) In the US, annual hours of work rose more than 200 from 1973 to 2006. Longer hours raise the ecological footprint, both because of more production, and because time-stressed households have higher-impact lifestyles. Getting to sustainability will require slowing down the pace of life, which means working less.