Friday, December 07, 2007

Fight Global Warming - Get Married!

What can you as a concerned environmentalist do to save the climate? Grow up, get married and settle down, according to a study out of Michigan State summarized by The Washington Post:

Divorce is not just a family matter. It exacts a serious toll on the environment by boosting the energy and water consumption of those who used to live together, according to a study by two Michigan State University researchers.

The analysis found that cohabiting couples and families around the globe use resources more efficiently than households that have split up. The researchers calculated that in 2005, divorced American households used between 42 and 61 percent more resources per person than before they separated, spending 46 percent more per person on electricity and 56 percent more on water.

Their paper, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also found that if the divorced couples had stayed together in 2005, the United States would have saved 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water in that year alone.

Married households use energy and water more efficiently than divorced ones because they share these resources -- including lighting and heating -- among more people, said Jianguo Liu, one of the paper's co-authors. Moreover, the divorced households they surveyed between 1998 and 2002 used up more space, occupying between 33 and 95 percent more rooms per person than in married households.


The reasoning in theory has nothing to do with marriage per se, simply hinging on the fact that people sharing the same dwelling use less energy than they would if they lived apart. This argument can apply to those who merely shack up, as well as those who live together for non-romantic reasons (just plain roommates, in other words). But even that concession understates the beneficial impact of the married life. Marriages break up, of course, but not nearly as often as cohabiting couples, and certainly non-attached roommates, do.

I am especially struck by some of the comments, which express outrage that someone would use climate change to make a political argument. Here is one from “egrason”:

It is not a surprise to anyone that increasing density of housing saves in energy costs. What is more disturbing is what sounds like the researchers are doing a disservice to themselves and the study by WAY overstepping the information the data provides and making social recommendations, that sound - to me - politically motivated.

To contend that no one has considered the household as a major energy consumer and that now we need to stop blaming industry is well beyond the purview of the data they gained. I'm disappointed to hear scientists making these claims, and further disappointed that the Post or any other journalistic entity should see fit to publish these claims just because it sounds good.


But of course any government-mediated solution to global warming is “politically motivated,” as is “blaming industry.” (Indeed, “blame” is itself the province of politics and its zero-sum nature; one never hears of a business facing new competition “blaming” customers for their defection.) But no one seems to notice when the implied political recommendation is requiring people to give up the personal autonomy provided by the automobile by forcing gas prices higher, or to give up those McMansions out there in Sprawlland by no longer building roads or by increasing heating-oil costs. Like marriage, these are lifestyle choices that generate more CO2, but not the sort of choices the right-thinking crowd is prone to making.

This reveals the whole problem of the growing global-warming hysteria. Even if it is true that human activity is increasing average temperature, it in no way follows that this necessitates a vast new (perhaps multinational) bureaucratic apparatus to roll back the tide of greater human freedom. If it were created it might do something crazy and completely unacceptable, like taxing the single life.

2 Comments:

Blogger Joshua said...

I wonder if, in addition to its face value, this linkage of singlehood to global warming might not be a thinly disguised attempt to break the so-called "marriage strike" among Western, particularly American, single men such as myself. Considering what has precipitated the marriage strike, it wouldn't surprise me.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

I am blessed to be happily married, but I have heard enough horror stories from divorced men, particularly fathers, to have some sympathy for what you say. On both sides the incentive to get and stay married is not what it once was.

9:56 AM  

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