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Catholic marriage proponents reacted to a study showing that divorce is bad for the environment.
BY WAYNE LAUGESENREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Want to save the planet from global
warming? Then try saving your marriage.
That’s the message of Jianguo Liu, a distinguished professor
of ecology and the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at Michigan State
Liu’s damning analysis of the heavy negative effects
divorces have on the environment was published in early December in the online
edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Liu said he and his team of scientists collected data about
consumption of energy and production of waste in 11 countries, including the
United States, going back to the 1970s.
In the United States alone, Liu concluded, divorce results
in $6.9 billion in additional household energy consumption, and $3.6 billion
worth of additional water usage.
“If you ride a bike or use efficient light bulbs or turn
down the heat a few degrees, all of those things will help the environment,”
Liu said. “But a divorce will easily offset those activities. It has an
That’s because a divorce usually results in one household
becoming two, Liu explained. Liu said he began the research after learning that
the number of households has been increasing globally in recent decades at a
far greater rate than population growth.
“If you have two parents and five children in a room,
they’re all getting the same benefit from one light bulb, one TV, the heating
system in the house,” Liu said. “When a divorce occurs, at least two of all
those things are needed for the same people.”
Additionally, Liu said, a divorce often results in parents
driving children great distances back and forth in order that they can visit
both households. He said divorced families are likely to have more cars than
when they lived as one.
“There are many other things as well,” Liu said. “You have
more use of land, more use of construction material because there’s suddenly
the need for another home. It results in more furniture, more appliances,
another microwave, another air conditioner and refrigerator. Basically, instead
of one family sharing resources, you split the family and the same number of
people requires twice the resources.”
But don’t expect those thousands of global warming websites
and brochures to begin adding “avoid divorce” or “take marriage seriously” to
the lists that say “ride a bike,” “drive a hybrid car” or “use energy efficient
“People doing research on environmental issues are very
surprised by this, and they don’t realize the connection between divorce and
the environment,” Liu said. “Even people who care very deeply about the
environment don’t make this connection.”
Tony Kreindler, media director for climate at the
headquarters of Environmental Defense in Washington, D.C., said Liu’s study
results were “outside my area of expertise.”
Jesus Mena, California media director for Environmental
Defense, laughed when he was asked about the connection between divorce and
global warming. He said the question resulted in “befuddlement” among his
colleagues when it first arrived by e-mail.
“I suppose divorce results in a lot of heated exchanges,”
Mena quipped, declining to address the study’s findings.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “Divorce
is a grave offense against the natural law.” It also states that “divorce is
immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society,”
a disorder that it states “makes it (divorce) truly a plague on society” (No.
The Catechism says one spouse can be the innocent victim of
divorce if unjustly abandoned by another, and therefore has not contravened
At least one leading Catholic advocate of traditional
marriage, however, isn’t impressed by Liu’s findings. Maggie Gallagher,
president of the Washington-based Institute for Marriage and Public Policy,
agreed that divorce causes disorder and wreaks havoc in society.
But she’s not “a big fan of that study,” she said.
“The logic of the study suggests that divorced fathers would
help the environment by abandoning their children, rather than driving across
town to see them,” she said. “It would suggest that unmarried couples are
better to live together rather than to date and maintain separate households.
To endorse this study I’d have to endorse the underlying assumption that we
should define the problem of global warming as anything that increases the
number of people or houses on the planet.”
Gallagher said an ideological belief that more human
activity warms the planet is the reason China wants environmental energy
credits as a reward for its one-child-only policy.
The divorce industry may have a mixed reaction to Liu’s
Chicago divorce lawyer Corri Fetman shocked the city last
summer when she paid for a billboard that said: “Life’s short. Get a divorce.”
It featured a scantily clad woman on one side of the sign, and a bare-chested
man on the other.
“She has decided not to comment on (Liu’s study),” said
Fetman’s assistant, hanging up the phone.
Divorce lawyer Sharyn Sooho, a founding partner of
Divorcenet.com, said Liu’s study is absolutely correct: Divorce wreaks havoc
not only with children and the community, but with the environment. Marriage,
she said, naturally results in an efficient sharing of resources.
“In 30 years of practicing divorce law, I don’t know why I
didn’t think of that,” Sooho said. “It’s absolutely true. I know this just from
looking at the costs. In most cases, divorce creates an unaffordable, untenable
situation for young adults and their children. They cannot afford two homes,
and two of everything else.”
Sooho said she has spent her career trying to assist with
good outcomes, and sometimes the best outcome is reconciliation of the
marriage. She can foresee playing a “save the planet” card at some point to
encourage reconciliation, but she doubts it will work.
“I talk to people who I think should persevere in the
marriage,” Sooho said. “Usually they say ‘You’re not a marriage counselor,’ and
then tell me to get back to the business of undoing the marriage. By the time
they’re talking to lawyers it’s usually too late, and I would say this is
probably the case even for those who care deeply about the planet. Getting out
of the marriage will take precedence.”
Jeff Cottrill, managing editor of Toronto-based Divorce
magazine, said it would take two “extreme, hippie-like environmentalists” to
reconcile a marriage out of concern for Mother Earth.
“I can see where the study is coming from,” Cottrill said. “But
divorce is such an emotionally overpowering event. Emotion is going to override
concerns about the environment every time.”