A realistic leverage point for one-planet living: more compulsory vacation in the rich world

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Abstract

The critical challenge in reaching global sustainability is limiting the human ecological footprint, pushing it below the carrying capacity of the planet. This task can only be achieved in two ways: by reducing the population or reducing the footprint per person. Since 1970 there has been rapid progress on the first front; fertility has dropped impressively as a result of more education, maternal health and contraception. There has also been some progress on the second front: technological advances and behavioral changes have been able to keep the footprint per person relatively stable in the rich world, in spite of a doubling of the GDP per person. But more is needed to achieve outright reduction of the footprint of those at high income levels. Sadly, measures to reduce those footprints are normally rejected by voters, because they involve costs, such as higher taxes, in the short term. Among the possible solutions, one stands out as a promising leverage point: reducing the length of the work year (the average number of hours worked for pay per person per year) over the coming decades. If the work year were shortened in an orderly manner, it would ultimately reduce annual production, consumption and the ecological footprint. Importantly, such gradual shortening of the work year could find majority support if it were introduced as a gradual increase in annual leave—for example, by adding two extra vacation days every year for several decades. It is rational to start this effort in the rich world, and system dynamicists have a role to play in getting voters to understand and adopt the leverage point of " more compulsory vacation in the rich world" . Copyright © 2014 System Dynamics Society

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