Acton Institute Powerblog

Do Nothing, Save the Planet

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“If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” That’s a good rule, I think.

The Care of Creation blog is noting, however, that “people who work longer hours use more energy and generally contribute more to the decline of the ecological quality of life on planet earth.”

The basis for the claim is a report that comes from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and “finds that if all countries worked as many hours per week as U.S. workers do, the world would consume 15 to 30 percent more energy by 2050 than it would by following Europe’s model.”

As I’ve asserted before, calculations that simply take into account the outputs of various environmentally-relevant factors, like GHGs, without also noting the relevant economic variables, are highly flawed.

So perhaps per capita American workers do work longer hours and therefore use more energy than their European counterparts. But do the American workers also contribute more to their respective country’s GNP than do Europeans? I’m betting they do…and it shouldn’t be surprising that all these factors correlate, because of the energy-dependent nature of the economy in the 21st century. But as recent trends suggest, perhaps even that doesn’t mean that economies must increase GHG emissions to grow.

Who gets more bang for their energy buck? The EU’s share of gross world product (GWP) is roughly 20%. Estimates put the EU’s population right around 490 million. The US’s share of GWP is larger than the EU’s, somewhere between 20% and 30%, but accomplishes that with a fraction of the population, numbering barely above 300 million.

So, work less and “save” the planet, but also contribute less to the global economy. That’s a formula for disaster.

For another take on how you can do nothing and save the planet, see the May 21 edition of the Joy of Tech comic.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Though I enjoy your non-alarmist perspectives and as a Christian believe that stewardship is a good principle…

    I disagree with your analysis here. The EU has opened itself to more than 100 million poor “unproductive” people in the last 10 years, which has not given us a lot of gain in terms on economic productivity. Romania and Bulgaria are not really up to California or any US-State (but also not any old EU-state).

    But we realized we had to do this to keep them from slipping back into political slavery. “It’s Liberty (not the Economy) first, Stupid” one might say.

    So please: Do add Mexico to your fabulous calculation and send us the numbers again…

    The U.S. I believe has no case for non-Christian righteousness. And doesn’t need it anayway. It’s a great country.

    And we are all in the same boat.

    Blessings from Berlin.


  • The numbers I quoted above surely include the net gains to the US economy due to the work of immigrants. My understanding in the US context is that immigration is a net benefit economically and nationally, with concentrated pockets or regions that experience negatives, primarily because of strains on state systems. We could add Mexico to the equation, but then we’d probably have to add Canada as well, if you want to make continental comparisons. Which is the closer analog to the EU, the United States or North America?

    You are saying, though, that the reason that the EU is not as economically productive as the US is because it has welcomed more unproductive immigrants? You’d have to compare the quantity and quality of the immigration numbers of the EU compared to the US to bear out that analysis. You’d then have to conclude that the immigrants to the US are more productive than those “poor ‘unproductive'” Romanians and Bulgarians.

    Why not instead point to the different cultural, regulatory, and taxation structures as controlling factors in the difference in productivity?

    Thanks for the comment.