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Peter Calthorpe, an urban planner working on the California high speed rail project, wrote a very good piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on the lack of transit funds in the current form of the economic stimulus. Check it out—it sounds like something we would say here. We definitely agree that there is not enough funding for transit in the economic stimulus bill. I would take it a step further and point out that there is not enough infrastructure funding in the stimulus bill, period. Infrastructure investment pays off in the long term, while offering jobs in the short term. Of course, between highways and transit, transit spending creates more jobs in both the short term and the long term, besides further stimulating the economy.

Many different figures have been floated as to how many jobs are created per dollar spent on infrastructure. Depending on which source you look at, you might see that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, 18,000 or 28,000 or some other high number of jobs are created. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact number, but the point is it’s high. Yet only about $30 billion of the $900 billion package is being directed at roads, with transit and inter-city rail getting $12 billion. Some of the other money is being directed to places that will do very little to create jobs.

The New York Times points out some of the latest additions to the bill, which include tax credits for home buyers and car buyers. I hate to say it, but this only attempts to feed our way of life for the past 50 or so years. The message it sends is, buy more homes in the suburbs to contribute to suburban sprawl, and buy a new car to drive on all those new lanes that are getting added to our highways. Don’t bother changing commuting habits or moving into the city, there was nothing wrong with our lifestyles that caused the economy to collapse or anything. (Oh, yeah. We bailed out the car industry so now we have to protect our investment. Same goes for the mortgage companies. Bleah.)

That’s totally the wrong message. Our representatives need to take advantage of the opportunity to encourage sustainable development by directing the funds to the places that will make a difference. Among those places are mass transit and high speed rail. If we don’t learn from our mistakes of spending unwisely in the past, we’re doomed to repeat them.

Given the urgent action that must be taken to fight climate change, it is important to be searching for ways to cut our harmful emissions. One particularly simple, yet important area that has not received much attention thus far is work hours. Is it possible that we could curb our emissions significantly just by working a few less hours per week?
According to a study led by Harvard economics professor Mark Weisbrot, it’s very possible. The study, conducted for the Center of Economic and Policy Research and titled Are Shorter Work Hours Good for the Environment?, claims that if Americans adopted European standards for work hours, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2000 would have been 7% lower than its actual 1990 emissions. This assumes U.S. workers would average 35 hours of work per week, as is typical throughout much of Europe.

Not only would this help the world’s worst global warming offender curb its emissions, it would provide workers with the equivalent of seven weeks of additional time off per year. This is time that could be spent with families, friends, relaxing, or even getting more sleep. Sound unrealistic? A survey issued by the Center for the New American Dream found that half of all Americans with full-time jobs would prefer to work a four-day week at 80% of their current pay.

Perhaps even scarier, though, is if the inverse were to occur. According to the study, if Europe was to move in a new direction and adopt the American standard of work hours, it could consume 25-30% more energy per year. However, this isn’t just a US vs. Europe issue. As the economies of developing countries grow, they will almost certainly move in a direction to adopt either the American or European standards for work hours. If these countries were to choose the American standard, they would likely consume between 15% and 30% more energy than if they had adopted the European standard. What’s the significance? All the extra carbon emissions could result in a devastating 1-2 degrees Celsius of additional warming.

Considering that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80-90% this century, changing the American standard of work hours deserves some serious consideration. Perhaps at a minimum, we should be given a choice of whether we want to to take an “hour cut” or not, as is argued by the Preservation Institute.

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