Aug 20, 2008

Divorce as an Environmental Issue?

A recent article in Australia's National Newspaper argues that divorce is "not just heartbreaking -- it's bad for the environment." Can this be true? And is there anything to be done about it?

Like the United States, Australia has a high divorce rate; approximately 40 per cent of marriages there end in divorce. Matthew Warren's article in the business section of The Australian points to the doubling of households and the resulting inefficient use of resources that occurs when couples divorce. The number of people living in a household, he says, is the biggest single determinant of how much energy and water are used and how much waste is generated. Even though it seems counterintuitive, more people in the household means that fewer resources will be used.

Of course, owners of rental properties, suppliers of small electronics, and furniture stores will benefit when a divorcing family needs to duplicate its household furnishings. But consuming more of these items isn't good for the environment, either. The mantra of "reduce-reuse-recycle" is difficult to apply when two households are being created where once there was one.

Unfortunately, there's no simple, immediate solution to this problem. People who can't stay together for the sake of their children surely won't be able to stick it out for the sake of the environment, either. But as Warren argues, we can start thinking about the bigger picture and considering options for creating more efficient, environmentally sustainable societies.