Saving the planet via polygamy

There’s a really bizarre article in today’s Washington Post. Under the title, “Divorce Found to Harm the Environment,” the article states:

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. . . .

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.

This is certainly a novel use of statistics, and likely to see much use in intra-family discussions this holiday season. I foresee the use of this statistic as another arrow in the quiver of passive-aggressive matchmaking parents everywhere. (“I don’t see why George can’t just find a nice girl, settle down, and save the environment.”) But really, the stats seem to prove too much, don’t they?


First, the environmental loss or gain isn’t really coming from marriage, is it? It’s coming from shared use of resources. And two people don’t have to be married to share resources. Unmarried cohabitation would have exactly the same environmental impact due to shared resource use. It won’t just be parents citing this article over Christmas dinner. “I know you’re mad that Cindy moved in with me, Mom — but we’re only doing it to help save the planet.”

And second, if two-people-cohabitating really creates such great environmental impact — why stop at two? The benefits of shared resource use can be expanded to greater heights, can’t they?

For one thing, this is an incentive for families to keep their kids longer. There will be no more nagging at little Junior to go get his own place now that he’s 35. Let’s keep him in his old room, and save the planet.

But wait, there’s more! What about polygamy? Now you’re talking real resource savings. Think Big Love<, or perhaps Brigham Young and 56 wives. That's not just 56 wives -- that's 56 times a 40% reduction in water and electricity use. Wowzers! You may see a problematic patriarchal family system, but I see forward-looking, responsible use of scarce environmental resources. Of course, removing 56 women from the marriage market skews the gender balance of the dating pool -- so we would need a reverse-Brigham as well, a woman who lived polyandrously with 56 husbands. And viola -- even more resources saved! You never knew it, but what's really destroying the environment these days is monogamy. I hope Mitt Romney includes this discussion in his speech on Thursday.

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2 Responses

  1. Matt says:

    Shoudn’t the real punch-line have been the old joke, “Save water- Shower with a friend”?

  2. Bruce H. says:

    Viola?