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Olivia Zaleski

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Is Divorce Bad for the Environment?

Posted: 02/24/08 07:54 AM ET

As if the encumbrance of divorce weren't heavy enough. Now parents of failed marriages can feel doubly guilty. Never mind breaking up the family, permanently damaging the kids and upsetting the in-laws--research now says divorce causes global warming!

According to a recent study from Michigan State University (MSU), divorced families have significantly larger carbon footprints than non-divorced families. Distinguished Professor and Chair of Ecological Sustainability at MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, Jianguo Liu, discovered the "inconvenient truth" while surveying domestic situations across the United States and 11 additional countries including Brazil, Ecuador, Kenya, Mexico and Spain. Liu and his team of researchers found that family splits consistently lead to hefty surges in transportation, construction and consumption.

It makes perfect sense. Divorce most often ends in dual residences. And we all know that housing sprawl is not good for the environment. (According to calculations by Architecture 2030, a nonprofit organization supported by the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Green Building Council, the residential building sector is responsible for 21 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions).

With so many families moving from one residence to two, its no wonder the environmental impact is intense. According to the US Census, the year 2000 saw the addition of six million "extra" households from divorce. Now, let's do the math . . . double the resources to build the house, twice the fuel to heat, cool and run the house and twice the provisions (cars, can openers, Spunky the house cat).

To pour some salt in the wound, split households have fewer people in them, yet they use close to the same amount of energy as a full house. For example, a refrigerator uses roughly the same amount of energy whether it runs for a family of four or for a single dad eating Tyson's Microwaveable Chicken Parm. On a per-capita basis, divorced residents consume more goods, use more electricity and water, and thus contribute to the emission of more greenhouse gases than those family's in a single dwelling. It all harks back to the simple principles of resource allocation and efficiency.

Finally, lets not forget all the environmental damage of celebrity splits. Though a miniscule portion of the population, celebrity divorcees wreak eco-havoc. First there are those carbon emissions. Jetting off to the Dominican Republic for a quickie annulment takes fuel--separate jets and respective entourages required. Then, if you're someone like Henry VIII you may have to create your own church--and God knows that's resource intensive. In Britney and K-Feds case there are custody battles that lead to constant shuffling of tots around Los Angeles. Multiply car emissions by 250 for following paparazzi and police motorcades.

Two houses, a rented apartment across town, weekdays with mom, weekends at Dad's, and every third Monday dinner at your maternal grandmother's. Divorce isn't easy for anyone. . . especially the environment.

 

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