Cohabiting for nature

December 26, 2007

From the Should-Be-Obvious Department comes word that divorce is bad for the environment.

It's not that Mother Nature gives a fig about marital status, or even gender, for that matter. But she's quite upset when households of two or more split up to become two or more households.

For the sake of saving land, water, energy and other scarce resources, she wants people to live together.

The contention that two can live as cheaply as one may overstate the case a bit. But from the standpoint of the ecology as well as the economy, two can live at least as cheaply as one and a half - sharing heating, air conditioning and lighting, as well as the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the television and other energy-consuming appliances.

In 2005, American households torn apart by divorce used 42 percent to 61 percent more resources than they did before they separated, according to a study by researchers at Michigan State University.

The same principle can be applied when twentysomething roommates move up the economic ladder and decide they'd each prefer a place on their own. Or when widows and widowers choose to stay in their home after losing their spouse, as many do today rather than move in with grown children.

Single people, including the never-married as well as the divorced and widowed, have headed a majority of households since 2005, a huge change since the 1950s, when three-quarters of all households were headed by married couples, the Census Bureau reports.

Singles are not all solo, of course. Many share their space with children, romantic partners or both. But as of 2000, one out of every four Americans has been living as the lone bird in the nest - and two out of every four in the otherwise crowded Manhattan. They are probably paying dearly for this privacy, but everyone else is, too, in the drain on natural resources.

No one is going to start mandating roommates. This country can barely impose pollution controls. But that old hippie line about showering with a friend suddenly sounds like practical advice.

Mother Nature won't mind at all.

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