While the last thing that you may be thinking about when in the throws of a failing marriage or partnership is the environmental impact of a split, a new study out last week by Michigan State shows that the environmental impact of the growing divorce rate is not negligible. In households where there has been a divorce, the study shows that there is a 42-61% rise in the per-person resource use. This drastic growth is due to many factors:
Where two people (or more) were previously living in one house, with one refrigerator, stove, sofa, set of lights, there is an automatic doubling of these after a divorce. Now there are two of each appliance, which means that there is naturally twice the draw on the energy and gas needed to run them. Yes, each appliance may be used less, but many appliances require ‘maintenance’ energy even when not in use- such as refrigerators which must remain plugged in.
More, Larger Houses
In addition to the appliances and energy requirements of multiple households, there is the often overlooked environmental impact of building more houses. More houses means more land, more building materials, more heavy machinery, more energy. Add to this the trend in most suburban areas towards massively large houses with 5 or more bedrooms that are occupied by one or two people or a very small nuclear family. From even 30 years ago, the average size of new homes continues to increase at an alarming rate.
What can be done…
Many advocates of traditional family structures and stricter laws against divorce use this study to point to the fact that divorce is bad. I would argue that this is not the most environmentally constructive use of the study and the options at hand. Unlike America, where ‘domestic partnership’ is viewed as strictly a homosexuality issue, in France there are provisions for persons who are not married that encourage living together as a family unit. If you’re divorced, consider sharing a household with another divorced person – especially if both of you are raising kids. If you’re single, get together with some other singles and share your resources. If living in community like this is scary to you, consider living in a small condo or co-op apartment that will enable you to build equity as well as minimize your environmental impact. The added benefit of this? You have friends nearby to help out when you’re going through a hard time. Loneliness and feelings of isolation are some of the hardest parts for many people about getting divorced.