Divorce: The Second-Hand Smoke of Climate Change?

A divorce may cause more carbon dioxide emissions than an additional birth” ~UN State of the World Population report, 2009

It’s that bad. When your neighbors get divorced, the planet shudders. And your children (and theirs) will feel the heat of that choice.

Earth Day (April 22nd this year) reminds us to reflect on what’s working and what’s not when it comes to sustainable planetary and human health. Divorce is definitely not working. Like secondhand smoke from cigarettes, the impacts of divorce now weigh on the health and well-being of others. And just as we as a society once had no clue that secondhand smoke is dangerous, we are only now beginning to recognize the risks of divorce, let alone address them.

Besides a burgeoning litany of other divorce-related risks, in just the last handful of years science has also shown us that divorce has a disproportionate impact on Earth’s finite resources when compared to marriage.

In 2007 the preeminent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study by Eunice Yu and Jiango Liu titled Environmental Impacts of Divorce. This pioneering research showed that worldwide, divorce inflates resource use because divorced people typically live in similar sized homes with fewer people while sustaining similar resource use levels (per person) as those living together in intact families.

In other words, divorce leads to more households per the same number of people, far more resource use (and expense) per person, and, thus, more climate-choking emissions.

Divorce causes efficiency to plummet.

For example, in 2005 alone (according to the PNAS study), “In the United States, divorced households spent 46% and 56% more on electricity and water per person than married households. Divorced households in the U.S. could have saved more than 38 million rooms, 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 627 billion gallons of water… if their resource-use efficiency had been comparable to married households. Furthermore, U.S. households that experienced divorce used 42–61% more resources per person than before their dissolution.”

It’s slam-dunk simple logic. In an accompanying story at ABCNEWS.com, Liu, the co-author of the study said, “Whether you have four or two people, you still use the same amount of heat, and whether you have two people or 10 people, the light is on.”

Then, two years later in 2009, the United Nations published their State of the World Population report. Owen Mears spotlighted the report in Divorce has negative impact on the environment. He writes that the UN report addressed that, “The need for two houses and two cars, for example, means the consumption of household energies is at least doubled.”

Likewise, Liu, co-author of the PNAS study told ABCNEWS.com that [Couples] don’t know the impact on environment from divorce… After the research is done, it’s really simple. Before our research, nobody knew about the impact… My hope is that they will think about the decision. Also, they can inform other people about the environmental impact of divorce.”

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