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Divorce: The Second-Hand Smoke of Climate Change?



Divorce: The Second-Hand Smoke of Climate Change?

How you can offset the divorce footprint… stay married and plant a tree.

A divorce may cause more carbon dioxide emissions than an additional birth” ~UN State of the World Population report, 2009

It’s that bad. When your neighbors get divorced, the planet shudders. And your children (and theirs) will feel the heat of that choice.

Earth Day (April 22nd this year) reminds us to reflect on what’s working and what’s not when it comes to sustainable planetary and human health. Divorce is definitely not working. Like secondhand smoke from cigarettes, the impacts of divorce now weigh on the health and well-being of others. And just as we as a society once had no clue that secondhand smoke is dangerous, we are only now beginning to recognize the risks of divorce, let alone address them.

Besides a burgeoning litany of other divorce-related risks, in just the last handful of years science has also shown us that divorce has a disproportionate impact on Earth’s finite resources when compared to marriage.

In 2007 the preeminent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencespublished a study by Eunice Yu and Jiango Liu titled Environmental Impacts of Divorce. This pioneering research showed that worldwide, divorce inflates resource use because divorced people typically live in similar sized homes with fewer people while sustaining similar resource use levels (per person) as those living together in intact families.

In other words, divorce leads to more households per the same number of people, far more resource use (and expense) per person, and, thus, more climate-choking emissions.

Divorce causes efficiency to plummet.

For example, in 2005 alone (according to the PNAS study), “In the United States, divorced households spent 46% and 56% more on electricity and water per person than married households. Divorced households in the U.S. could have saved more than 38 million rooms, 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 627 billion gallons of water… if their resource-use efficiency had been comparable to married households. Furthermore, U.S. households that experienced divorce used 42–61% more resources per person than before their dissolution.”

It’s slam-dunk simple logic. In an accompanying story at, Liu, the co-author of the study said, “Whether you have four or two people, you still use the same amount of heat, and whether you have two people or 10 people, the light is on.”

Then, two years later in 2009, the United Nations published their State of the World Population report. Owen Mears spotlighted the report in Divorce has negative impact on the environment. He writes that the UN report addressed that, “The need for two houses and two cars, for example, means the consumption of household energies is at least doubled.”

Likewise, Liu, co-author of the PNAS study told that[Couples] don’t know the impact on environment from divorce… After the research is done, it’s really simple. Before our research, nobody knew about the impact… My hope is that they will think about the decision. Also, they can inform other people about the environmental impact of divorce.”

What do you think? Would you reconsider a divorce?

Will this sort of information inspire couples to change their minds, perhaps even to seek out the tools and research we now have that will help them heal their marriage and create a thriving, joyous partnership? Will they be inspired to help reduce their impact on the planet for their own and other children’s sake? Will more married couples reach out to struggling or divorcing friends, and help them with support, information, and resources?

Raoul Felder, a “prominent New York divorce attorney,” doesn’t think so. The story quotes him as saying, “I think people who want a divorce are so driven to improve their quality of life—environmental factors are the least of what they’re thinking about… If they’re not thinking about the effect of divorce on children, they’re not going to be thinking what their environmental footprint is going to be or how many kilowatts they’re using.”

But I disagree. Had my husband and I understood the risks of divorce, as well as the tools and research coming from attachment science that help couples uncover and restore their primal love bond to emotional vibrancy, we would most likely have skipped our divorce altogether. We are one of the many hundreds of thousands of couples who fell into the so-called divorce trap because we didn’t have all the information.

And now we do. Which is why the Coalition for Divorce Reform and Kids Against Divorce are so important. These organizations’ missions are to broadcast and disseminate information about the risks of divorce, as well the tools available for struggling couples, to as many people as possible:with the urgent, necessary goal of serious social change.

And also to give a crucial voice to the millions of children of divorce.

Because here’s the thing: If divorce is the second-hand smoke of climate change then we and our children need the whistle-blowers. Just like the folks who uncovered the dangers of cigarettes and then bravely told the truth in a social climate averse to their findings, today’s whistleblowers for the risks of divorce need our thanks and support.

Which brings me back to Earth Day.

Thanks to David Schel at Kids Against Divorce we can do something proactive to help. Schel—a father and survivor of an unwanted divorce—teamed up with Pamela Hart of Plant trees 4 Life to make a living grove of trees as a monument to all the millions of children of divorce. Schel’s remarkable “broken family tree” shows the devastating impact divorce can have across generations; so he

decided to plant healthy, living trees as a testament and beacon of hope for children of divorce. What’s more, for every tree planted Plant Trees 4 Life will make a donation to Kids Against Divorce, thereby helping KAD serve its much-needed mission.

Best of all, planting “Family Trees” takes on even more significance with the knowledge that by planting these trees we can also offset the carbon footprint left in the wake of so many divorces.

Kids Against Divorce is planting groves of Family Trees all across America to create a living monument to the millions of children whose voices are silenced and hearts broken by divorce. Visit KAD’s “Plant a Family Tree” to find out more about this project.

And, for the sake of Earth and all her children, please spread the word!


Like so many others, Rachel woke up one day to find herself divorced. Yet today she is joyously remarried to her ex-husband. How did this happen? Rachel Clark is a science writer and biologist with training in the sexual behavior of animals. Years back, she received a Master’s degree in Zoology, in which she studied and published on alternative male mating strategies. After working as a science writer with Cornell University’s Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors RachelI began a freelance science writing career that spans more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in Nature news online, the Earth & Sky Radio Program, Living Bird Magazine, various science textbooks, in publications of the Joint Fire Science Program, and many others. She’s a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the Society of Environmental Journalists. From this you might guess Rachel’s got a passion for learning. And it’s true. Growth excites her—and that hunger to grow is, in part, how she ended up divorced. Like so many thousands of other people, she had come to believe that she was stunted in her marriage; and that for many reasons it had come to a necessary end. But her divorce did not solve her “problems” and, rather, brought on many more difficult and painful challenges. Her husband, like Rachel, is an investigator; he’s a scientist. Cerebral talks and figuring things out had always been part of their union. So even though they’d endured the finality and ferocity of a divorce, and even though were both in love with and living with new partners, and even though they had truly believed their marriage was over—in their quest to understand their intense post-divorce difficulties—they began talking. Almost overnight there reawakened an unexpected passionate friendship. Together they began reading books on marriage, the science of attachment, affairs, and divorce. Stunned, they learned they’d succumbed to a culturally universal urge to flee their marriage; an urge that, in reality, had almost nothing to do with the marriage itself. The flood gates broke as they let themselves admit that they still had a fierce emotional bond. And as they bore witness to their history, partnership, social network, marriage, extended family, children, and the life they’d shared together, they discovered that they had created the most vital adult relationship of their lives. Emerging science confirms the power of that bond…Nothing could ever replace it. Today her beloved (first and second) husbands and her make their lives in the beauty and abundance of the Pacific Northwest with their two sons. They’ve been together for nearly 20 years, give or take the Divorce Time. He devotes his life energy to their family, community, and the mythic totem species of our region, the salmon. Their boys spend their time reading, playing with Legos, and requesting yet another dinner party with their close family of friends. Rachel and her husband occasionally glance at each other over their heads, relief plain on their faces; they are so thankful they no longer endure the stress of their former split. And Rachel? She finds joy in yoga, the delights of local food and their backyard chickens, writing, reading, her friendships, and especially, in the sacred art of growing in her marriage, loving her husband, and together, shepherding their greatest privilege: their children. Most nights you’ll find Rachel nestled in bed with her boys and husband, reading yet another Harry Potter chapter aloud…but rarely speaking of He Who Shall Not Be Named. Rachel is currently writing a memoir of their experience. If their story can help avert the pain and trauma of even one unnecessary divorce or inspire another couple’s reconciliation, their heartache will have been worthwhile.

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