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The hidden effects of family feuds on the environment

July 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Family, Top Picks

tom and katieResolving household feuds and keeping the family together may be more important than we ever realised. We already know that these feuds have damaging, long-lasting impacts on our personal relationships with spouses, children, and other relatives, but in recent years research has uncovered another hidden cost of family feuds: its toxic impact on the environment.

The environment? It might sound strange at first, but when you really consider it, the strain that family feuds place on our environmental resources becomes increasingly apparent. Consider these facts:

Family feuds lead to an increased number of households.

Have you and your spouse sought advice on divorce or considered living in separate households? What about your relationship with your teenagers—have they threatened to move out of the house as soon as they become legal adults? The effects of these household divisions extend well beyond the emotional and the financial. That’s because separation leads to an increased number of households, all of which are using space more inefficiently than before. A 2007 study from the University of Michigan in the United States revealed that when the number of households increases due to separation, so does the number of rooms per person: a divorced household, for example, might have 33 per cent to 95 per cent more rooms per person than a married household.

Family feuds put a strain on environmental resources

No matter how eco-conscious any given member of your family is, odds are his household runs less efficiently with fewer people in it. The University of Michigan study showed that in the United States, separated households consumed an additional 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 627 billion gallons of water because energy usage per person was not as efficient as it is in a united household. Separated households also often require the purchase of new items—everything from entertainment centres and televisions to dishes and utensils—which lead to increased consumption. Finally, spouses going through divorce must complete a lot of legal paperwork—and in some cases attend court hearings—to make their separation final. Factor in all of these considerations and you’ll begin to get a clearer picture how family feuds lead to the increased fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

What the future holds

Of course, just because a household becomes divided—whether that be because of divorce or children leaving the nest—doesn’t mean it stays that way forever. Children might start living in the house again during school holidays or after they graduate; alternatively, they might not return home but go on to get married and start their own families. Divorced and separated couples may eventually start cohabitating with a new partner or even get remarried. What happens to energy consumption per household in these situations? In their study, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when a partner remarries, average household size and number of rooms per person in the new household is roughly the same as those of constantly married households. In other words, the couple’s carbon footprint shrinks. That’s certainly good news for new couples—and for the environment!

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