Tim inspired me with a wonderful commentary on his family's blog. I loved reading it and decided to publish one that I heard on the radio recently that really grabbed me. Enjoy!
Do It for Mom
Divorce and the Environment
Note: This commentary was delivered by PFM President Mark Earley.
Is divorce bad for children? The data strongly suggests that it is. There is no shortage of studies that show a correlation between divorce and what social scientists call “adverse outcomes,” such as drug use, teen pregnancy, depression, and other bad things.
Yet, even with the data, many scientists and academics decline to tell people that they should stay married for the sake of children.
If Americans will not stay together for their children’s sake, would they do it to save the planet?
That is the question being asked in the wake of a recent Michigan State study. Researchers there found that divorce “exacts a serious toll on the environment.” How? It boosts “the energy and water consumption of those who used to live together.”
Why this should be the case is not hard to understand: Divorce turns what used to be one household into two. The efficient use of resources, including money, that comes naturally to families living under the same roof no longer applies. In its place are two of just about everything. The researchers calculated that, as the result of divorce, an additional 38 million rooms had to be heated and lighted.
The impact of this divorce-induced consumption is not trivial, they say. The researchers calculated that if divorced couples had stayed married, the “United States would have saved 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 BILLION gallons of water”—and that’s in 2005 alone.
That is approximately as much electricity as American households use in three weeks and nearly as much water as all of American industry uses in an entire year.
Clearly, the study’s authors were right when they said that after blaming “industries for environmental problems,” it is time to look at the impact of households. But if you are expecting environmental groups to emphasize or even mention getting and staying married as a way to “save the planet,” well, you are mistaken.
The head of the Earth Policy Institute told the Washington Post that “shifting to more energy-efficient appliances is the answer, not trying to prevent divorce or trying to make divorce more difficult.” In other words, get divorced if you like—just make sure your new home has an energy-efficient dishwasher and compact fluorescent light bulbs.
No surprise here. Environmentalism, as Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez puts it, increasingly resembles a “religious awakening.” But, like most modern religions, its aim is to make the adherent feel righteous, not to be righteous.
Thus, given the choice between personal fulfillment and “saving the planet,” the choice is easy: The environment joins the kids on the list of those things whose well-being is sacrificed on the altar of our autonomy. Just as our children have to settle for “quality time,” “Mother Earth” will have to be content with energy-efficient appliances and a check to an environmental group. Any real sacrifice is for other people to make.
Of course, that does not change the impact that our choices have on both people and now, it seems, the planet. We can violate the moral order for only so long before the stones themselves begin to cry out.
For Further Reading and Information
Roberto Rivera, “Do It for Mom!” The Point, 5 December 2007.
“A Really Inconvenient Truth: Divorce Is Not Green,” Michigan State University press release, 10 December 2007.
Juliet Eilperin, “Divorce Found to Harm the Environment with Higher Energy, Water Use,” Washington Post, 4 December 2007, A02.
Gregory Rodriguez, “Greenness Is Next to Godliness,” Los Angeles Times, 10 December 2007.
Meghan Daum, “Save the World: Stay Married,” Los Angeles Times, 8 December 2007.
See this table showing the “Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000” and this tableEstimated Use of Water in the United States in 2000—Total Water Use.” Also see “End-Use Consumption of Electricity 2001.” and the “
BreakPoint Commentary No. 071211, “Fruitless Folly: Voluntary Self-Extinction.”
BreakPoint Commentary No. 071102, “Just Do It: Good Stewardship and Global Warming.”
Regis Nicoll, “The New World Religion: Environmentalism and the Western World,” BreakPoint Online, 31 January 2005.