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Stay Married or Murder Mother Earth! May 13, 2009

Posted by Onely in As If!, Food for Thought, Just Saying..
Tags: , , , , , , ,

imagesSo apparently singles are bad for the environment, according to this AP article and this RealConcepts blog post.

Households with fewer people are simply not as efficient as those with more people sharing

says ecologist Jianguo Liu at Michigan State, who analyzed the environmental impact of divorce.

images-1Per person, divorced households spent more per person per month for electricity, compared to a married household, as multiple people can be watching the same television, listening to the same radio, cooking on the same stove and or eating under the same lights.

Ok, so here are just some of the points that Liu doesn’t seem to consider:

Singles often generally use less space and smaller cars than married people. A married household may have one person doing laundry downstairs while another person watches TV upstairs. (If a single person can do laundry downstairs and watch TV upstairs at the same time, then their problems are way bigger than the dying planet’s.)  Multi-person households need bigger microwaves, bigger laundry machines. Lisa points out that “a single person may be willing to be cold or hot to save energy, which they can do because it won’t affect anyone else in the household”. Moreover, a single person who keeps their heat at a decent temp and gets energy star windows is going to expend less energy than a couple living next door who doesn’t.

Interestingly, Lisa also points out that “the researcher also isn’t taking into account the energy that was spent by the couple before they were a couple. It’s almost as though the couples did not exist before being a couple. . .WTF?”

Liu stressed that he isn’t condemning divorce: “Some people really need to get divorces.”

But the study sure seems marketed as if to condemn divorce. Or at the very least, it touts the superiority of multi-person households over single households. In which case, then let’s think about this: singles are more likely to live in group housing.

The moral of the story? As always, you can spin anything to fit your worldview. Onely says, if you want to save the planet, then get a divorce so you can be happier and more productive and have more room to adjust your lifestyle to its most earth-friendly point.

Copious Readership, what has your environmental footprint been like when you’ve been in relationships, versus when you’ve been single?


P.S. Really, really want to save the planet? Then do as many singles do–don’t have kids. We at Onely do like children, but any expert who is not too scared to talk about the subject will tell you that the biggest way you can decrease your carbon footprint, your consumption, your impact on the earth is to not have children. That’s just the cold, hard, brutal facts. Onely will go there in another post. We’re not afraid! Well, maybe a little.


1. Alan - May 13, 2009

It’s true that the more you cram people together, the more energy you can save.

If everyone lived in apartment buildings like I do we’d save tons of energy. Since it’s not exactly a great leap to suggest that singles are more likley to do that than couples, it rather undermines the researcher’s thesis.

Similarly, couples could reduce their environmental impact by inviting other couples to come and live with them.

2. Alan - May 13, 2009

Also, didn’t this article come out a couple months ago? I seem to remember something on Dr. DePaulo’s blog.

Lauri - May 13, 2009

no that was that horrible Washington Post op ed about how everyone should get married as young as possible (or that women should- he was actually advocating increasing the age gap between men (older) and women (younger) in marriages). He brought up the stupid environmental argument as well. I think these people have lost the ability to think rationally.

3. autonomous - May 13, 2009

Love this post because I admit that I’m pretty smug about how much less I consume and waste….I considered moving in with a boyfriend once but the mere idea of living in his huge house in the suburbs was too much, ie: out of scooter/walking range, and therefore a major sacrifice of a large part of my lifestyle. I wasn’t willing to risk all for a relationship that likely wouldn’t last.
So saying, I can affirm several of the posts points:
-I share an old house in an urban neighborhood with 2 others
-small house=don’t have room for unnecessary crap
-we often walk to work, restaurants, downtown events etc..
-I ride my scooter everywhere I can.
-I keep heat low and a/c off (until bedtime on worst days)
-summer heat kills appetite= less electricity to cook, less water to clean up.

Not sure about the laundry/t.v. connect, Christina- as I don’t stay in the spooky basement while the laundry spins… a dvd is usually playing while I do my chores.

On the flip-side: (I’m not afraid)
-people in general claim to need more and more space- just look at the monsters “single-family” homes have become! How many unnecessary lawns are there for the kids to play on?
Seriously, my mom always used that to justify a large lawn front and back in spite of living in Nevada and a great park being just a 1/4 mile away. Major water and fertilizers needed to keep a green lawn here…

-divorcing couples with kids often duplicate their entire households because a second, mostly empty three/four bedroom home will automatically create a vacuum for more stuff for both homes.

-houses with babies have a weird plastic and poo smell from all those toxic toys & thousands of dirty disposable diapers.

-don’t get me started on juice boxes; individual servings and snack-packs; corn syrup/corn everything; anti-bacterials and chemical cleaners because parents have become germi-phobes; driving hundreds of miles a week in a very large vehicle for all the activities, schools, play-dates, etc..and disposable everything made for “convenience” sake.

Lauri - May 13, 2009

Oh yeah yards! All symptoms of the American live style of isolating one’s nuclear family in the suburbs. Rather than go to the community shared park, lets all have individual yard with fertilizer runoff and invasive species! Instead of going to the movies, let’s all watch our big screens individually. Rather than take public transportation or walk amongst one’s neighbors, let’s all drive our individual cars!

4. Lauri - May 13, 2009

I addressed these issues in comments I made recently on Bella DePaulo’s Psych Today blog. I’m an environmental professional, so this issue strikes a big nerve with me. The points you made are right on. Plus the other things people mention in the comments. I’d also like to add that single people are more likely to live in cities and more likely to live in multi-family housing. Both amazingly better than a couple or family of four living in a single family home in the suburbs (especially if it’s a big home!). Also, the economies of scale that make marriage so financially efficient do not apply to environmental efficiency. As you point out, rather than having the lights on in one room, you could have them on in 2- in that respect it doesn’t matter if these two people are living together or separately. Also, married people will often live in houses that are much bigger than they actually need. Rather than stay in an apartment, coupled people will feel the social need to move to bigger house that has more rooms than they have people to fill. DePaulo also recently made the comment that single people don’t always live alone. Which is true- I live alone, but I’m the only single person I know who does (and come the fall, I’ll be moving in with 2 roommates).

The point about kids is right on. Autonomous’ point about driving more with kids- absolutely! Sometimes people who never or rarely drive START driving when they have kids. I know people who have bought first or second cars upon having a kid! In addition to just bringing more consumers and polluters into the world, kids- by virtue of being kids- are bad for the environment! All the plastic toys and equipment that needs to be purchased, the packaged foods, the driving them around…

onely - May 19, 2009

Ah! I never thought about people STARTING to drive when they have kids. But you’re right, you almost WOULD have to start driving once you have a kid, in many circumstances. CC

5. Lauri - May 13, 2009

Oh and weddings themselves! Man, I can’t think of single events that are more wasteful and polluting: the gifts, the food, the flowers, the traveling guests, the invitations, the save the date cards (or magnets), the mail trucks delivering the save the date cards, the invitations, and the reply cards…

6. Alan - May 14, 2009

I agree with all of the above, though I’d warn against getting into a kind of environmental oneupmanship. Everyone could be doing more.

Also, I’d be careful about stereotyping singles as city dwellers with roomates and few possessions. I think a better way to combat singlism is to emphasize the diversity of singles.

Lauri - May 14, 2009

I agree Alan. I’m trying not to go on stereotypes, but as far as I know, the statistics show that single people are more likely to live in cities, which would also suggest they are more likely to live in multi-family residences (there was an article-an actual positive one-about this somewhere recently). I also remember reading stats somewhere in a land use (similar to urban planning) class that more traditional suburb-dwellers are married.

If these stats are true, to me it is a good thing for singles, not a bad thing in the sense that singles are traditionally stereotyped to live in tiny apartments and not “grown up” houses. Rather than wishing more single people could live in “grown up houses” I wish more married people could/would live in apartments! Though it is correct that a huge number of singles are now buying property, there is something to be said that the social/psychology link between marriage and home ownership is still HUGE. I’ve actually met people who have said, ‘but I’m married, I can’t RENT.” In order to achieve this, people often have to live in the suburbs because owning in cities is too expensive. Though I think home ownership is WAY overvalued in our country for EVERYONE, I don’t think single people feel quite as much of a necessity toward it.

onely - May 19, 2009

“I’m married, I can’t RENT.” Really. Asinine. –CC
P.S. I need to start using “asinine” more often. What an underutilized word.

autonomous - May 14, 2009

You’re right about not stereotyping, my friend recently divorced and walked away with only his most personal possessions- he spent last weekend buying everything needed to completely re-furnish his home in the suburbs; but the point Lauri and I are making is that couples often start out in an apartment or smaller home, but then “move up” and farther out; and with larger spaces, comes more stuff, more waste. Every married couple I know has done this, then subsequently complain about having too much stuff or house to maintain.

We w/o kids can generally always one-up families with- Diapers alone are an environmental nightmare! It’s one of my best responses to the singlist barbs about my not having or wanting kids. It’s for the planet!

Lauri - May 14, 2009

Right, and it doesn’t have to be that way- actually it is essentially caused by people trying to live up to a stereotype. Luckily the “single stereotype” just happens to be better for the environment. The kids thing though, I don’t think you can get it as a numbers thing- if you have a kid, it’s worse for the environment than if you didn’t have a kid. That’s not to say that people who have kids can’t make good choices that minimize the impact of their decision to have kids. But oddly enough, “living up to the stereotypes” actually MAXIMIZES the impact of having kids, and that’s what a lot of people go for.

The thing is, overtime this whole stereotype you have to live up to when having kids/getting married has gotten much more damaging. My parents actually shared beds with their siblings; when I was a kid it was common to share rooms with your siblings; and now, something like 75% of kids entering college have never shared a *bathroom* with anyone. Plus it’s all intertwined with the idea of the isolated nuclear family that is so prevalent in our culture-the idea that if you have a nuclear family, you don’t need a community, if you don’t need a community, you put everything you would normally get from the community inside your house, you obviously need a bigger a house, if you need a bigger house, there’s a better chance you’re going to build a new one on a greenfield, etc.

And I think that land use is really the main issue, not energy. I think the net efficiency gains of sharing a house with someone are small- person 1 and person 2 will be taking the same amount of showers whether they live in one house or 2. You’re still going to have almost twice as many loads of laundry. There never really seems to be a shortage of existing houses/apartments to move into, but as people feel the need to build a new one because a house that held a family of 4 in the previous generation is no longer good enough for the current generation, they build on greenfields, and leave the existing houses behind, and THAT is inefficient. My apartment (in a circa 1900 two-family) was obviously built to house a family. But I think you’d be hard pressed to find a married couple with kids who would move into it these days. So it really doesn’t matter if I move into it by myself because it’s already there, it’s a fixed cost to society if you will.

Anyway, every once in a while an article pops up that suggests being single is bad for the environment. As I recall, it was one such article that instigated Leslie Talbot to write The Singular Existence (the article she refers to suggested that all single people live in communes). *IF* married people were not more likely to have to kids and if people didn’t actually live up to married/single stereotypes in terms of many living situations, then these articles might have a logical point, but if you think about reality, it doesn’t hold up at all.

onely - May 19, 2009

Yes, isn’t the whole environmental oneupmanship thing interesting? “I compost.” “Well, I compost my own poop.” “Well I compost my own poop and then grow my own vegetables in it, then eat them, then poop, then compost *that*. ” CC

7. Special K - May 14, 2009

I think we could find research supporting that singles “consume” less and research showing families “consume” less. I think it is great that “consuming less” is now a value, but don’t like the fact that we use it as a way to underscore the validty of one life style over another.
Perhaps the article was trying to motivate us single people to consider how we could individually “consume less.”….which could have been stated more clearly.

8. Singlutionary - May 16, 2009

whenever I am in a relationship I am always more stressed for time so I end up using conveniences like to-go food, etc. And I drive more because I am always going back and forth between my house and his. Of course if I were married we would live in the same house which would mean moving out of our respective houses and getting another house which would result in renting a uhaul and buying more stuff, etc.

In general, I think that single people are more likely to share living quarters and live in smaller spaces.

And I totally agree about the having kids thing. . . but I am very afraid of talking about it. I look forward to your post on the subject.

9. bobby - May 16, 2009

I think my views have been expressed by the previous posters. One thing I’d like to add though; do people who write this non-sense realize that there are people who read it whi indeed have brains?

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