This semester, Bucknell University hosted a variety of guest speakers in its Sustainability Symposium. Tonight, students had the opportunity to hear Professor Juliet Schor discuss her book Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. To give you an understanding of her writing, Plenitude focuses on the current economic and sustainability issues our globe faces today. In Schor’s presentation, she provided students with illustrations demonstrating the growing periods and recessionary periods of the past 50 years. She also linked this to the changes in employment. One specific illustration that remains clear in my mind was one that showed productivity vs. hourly compensation. Since 1948, the U.S. has experienced a productivity increase of 250%. While this is impressive, the hourly compensation level only rose by a miserly 110%. She argues that this is not sustainable by any means.
Schor also discussed global CO2 emissions. To the general public’s knowledge, this is the main factor causing increases in global warming. In one of Schor’s slides, she showed a graph that illustrated immense CO2 growth since the year 2000. Although researchers can attribute this increase to the fact that the U.S. are more productive then ever, the truth is that other nations with comparable wealth (European countries) have half the CO2 emissions per capita as the U.S. The reason for this is that European countries possess different policies, infrastructure, and consumer patterns. They understand that growth is no longer a viable sustainability solution for wealthy countries. If we are to be sustainable, the answer lies within working less hours and spending more time concentrating on home production and less on consumerism and market exchange.
I think Schor makes a very good point when she states that we need to spend more time focusing on how to be self-sustainable by weaning ourselves off of the consumerism craze; however, I disagree about her thoughts on working less hours. While she may be focusing on the sustainability aspects in her book, her presentation provided me with the notion that working less hours was solely a solution to unemployment. Although less work hours may decrease unemployment, I think the people working those jobs would be overall less experienced. This would therefore cause a lack of efficiency and effectiveness in one’s work. If we are to solve the sustainability crisis, I believe that we must focus on consumer habits as opposed to unemployment.