SCHMIDT, Conrad




Author Tags: Environment

Work Less Party founder Conrad Schmidt, creator of the World Naked Bike Ride to protest climate change in 2004, first abandoned his work as a software engineer on Fridays, then he abandoned his Jeep. Today the South African-born activist believes that work sharing—working less—will lessen our imprint on the earth and help us enjoy life more. His clarion call for a commonsensical revolution to help the environment and our species, Workers of the World Relax (Work Less $15), has quickly garnered lots of press. If you want to save time and conserve paper, his short essays on work, happiness and consumerism in a global economy can be reduced to one inspirational message: “Work less, produce less, consume less and live more.” Schmidt's subtitle is The Simple Economics of Less Industrial Work. 0-9739772-0-5 WorkLessParty.org

[BCBW 2006] "Environment"

Workers of the World Relax: The Simple Economics of Less Industrial Work (Sandhill/Work Less $15)
Review



First he stopped working on Fridays at his job as a software engineer; then he abandoned his Jeep. Now Conrad Schmidt—creator of the World Naked Bike Ride in Vancouver in 2004 to protest climate change —believes that work sharing will lessen our imprint on the earth and help us enjoy life more.

Schmidt’s call for a common-sensical revolution, Workers of the World Relax: The Simple Economics of Less Industrial Work (Sandhill/Work Less $15), contains short essays on work, happiness and consumerism in a global economy. Its inspirational message can be condensed to: “Work less, produce less, consume less and live more.”

Whether he’s riding naked on his bike to garner attention for climate change, or baking a cake for the BC Progress Board to spread awareness for the benefits of a shortened work week, Schmidt typically presents his ideas in a friendly, easy to understand and non-threatening fashion. But behind each public stunt is a well-informed political philosophy that has led him to found the Work Less Party.

Without gimmicks and marketing ploys, Workers of the World Relax explains how and why our cultural emphasis on production and consumption is having disastrous consequences for the health of the Earth, as well as our own mental and physical well-being. Citing the likes of environmentalist David Suzuki and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Schmidt uses footnotes, photos and lucid prose to convince the reader how the reduced work-week can become the antidote to industrial overkill.

“As people in middle to upper income brackets work less,” he writes, “more opportunities to move up the income scale will present themselves. Not only will people have the potential to earn more, less people will compete for minimum wage jobs. This will also help inflate wages. In reality, if we work less, the value of our labour increases along with wage negotiating powers.”
Less time spent working can translate into more time spent eating and exercising properly, reducing stress, enabling citizenry to become more active in democracy and generating more informed public debate.

It’s not just fanciful theorizing. “In countries like France, Germany, Denmark, Holland and Sweden,” he says, “which already incorporate reduced work weeks, there is a trend for the media to cater to well-informed readers. [Whereas] in nations with longer workweeks, the trend is for information to be presented in the form of catchy headlines and fifteen-second sound bites.”

The United States is the hardest working country in the world in terms of average hours worked. Its media is frequently criticized for catering to the lowest common denominator. Many Canadians are alarmed by statistics that reveal a high percentage of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had connections to Al Qaeda, or that he possessed weapons of mass destruction. Schmidt points out something new; the five nations with the highest percentage of people working longer than 50 hours a week—the United States, Japan, UK, Australia and New Zealand—were all willing to send troops to Iraq.

Schmidt’s focus is not only limited to his “work less” maxim. He touches on energy use, transportation, city planning and comparative studies of cultural levels of happiness. While many of his points may seem familiar, such as the negative environmental effects of the cattle industry and our need for locally sustainable agriculture, some of Schmidt’s arguments appear quite novel and may surprise even the most radical of activists.

Schmidt, for example, views the energy crisis as a potentially good thing. His greatest fear is not the world running out of oil, but rather the discovery of a new, cheap energy replacement that will allow us to sustain our environmentally destructive levels of production and consumption.

“Today, as in the 1970s, many respected academics are predicting that rising oil prices will result in the collapse of the economy and civilization. As usual, they are wrong. I am not saying a collapse is impossible; simply that it will likely be a consequence of cheap energy prices and not high energy prices. A rising cost of energy is a good thing.”

In his modest but empowering 143 pages, Schmidt does not limit himself to the role of doomsayer, a common pitfall in much activist writing. Instead he levels constructive criticism at the myriad of problems facing our dangerously wasteful society and responds with policy alternatives that are thoughtful, well-researched and, most importantly, practical. 0-9739772-0-5; wlp-publishing.org

--by Martin Twigg

[BCBW 2006]