A celebration (and mocking) of ridiculously useless research

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's Not Just Bad For the Children - It's Bad for Mother Earth Too!

It's really too bad that we here at Duh!scoveries obviously have so much else going on in our lives that we stick to such a pathetic posting schedule. It's not for lack of material that this blog goes idle for months - we're just busy!

But we recently had such an egregiously bad study fall into our laps that even we were forced out of our TV-induced torpor to write about it. Honestly, the writer's strike's effects on television had nothing to do with it!

But back to the Duh!scovery at hand. Just when you were starting to think that divorce had finally shed its down-market image as ruiner of children's lives and started being hip again, now it turns out it's bad for the environment!

Writing in the Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Eunice Yu and Jianguo Liu of the Michigan State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife found:

Divorce is increasingly common around the world. Its causes, dynamics, and socioeconomic impacts have been widely studied, but little research has addressed its environmental impacts. We found that average household size (number of people in a household) in divorced households (households with divorced heads) was 27–41% smaller than married households (households with married heads) in 12 countries across the world around the year 2000 (between 1998 and 2002). If divorced households had combined to have the same average household size as married households, there could have been 7.4 million fewer households in these countries. Meanwhile, the number of rooms per person in divorced households was 33–95% greater than in married households. In the United States (U.S.) in 2005, divorced households spent 46% and 56% more on electricity and water per person than married households.

Wow. Post-divorce households are smaller than pre-divorce households? Let's sit and reflect on that one a minute. You're saying that if a family of four living under one roof suddenly splits into two families, one with an overworked single mom with two kids and the other with a lonely, bitter ex-husband, that the size of those households (at 3 people and 1 person) is smaller than the original household (of 4 people)? Those are some mad math skillz! It took us at least 12 seconds to figure out that the average household size of that one was... 50% smaller!

And with two households, energy use skyrockets! Both homes need to be heated, and lit, and cooled, and... well, you get the drift. Even if you were really frugal and tried to have half as many rooms in each place, you'd still need two kitchens, at least two bathrooms and probably two living rooms (unless bitter old ex-hubby moves into a studio - or does the right thing and just offs himself).

"Turning on the light uses the same energy whether there are two people or four people in the room," said lead author Jianguo Liu, an ecologist at Michigan State University.

No kidding?

Of course, if being divorced causes energy use to go up, then other, more alternative, lifestyles might make it go down! Hey all you free-lovers out there, you're environmentally friendly (as long as you cohabitate). Why stop with shacking up with just one life partner - the more the merrier. It's all about saving Gaia - you don't have a problem with that, do you?

Other potential solutions include polygamy, communal living or roommates.

"I'm just a scientist trying to present the facts," Liu said. "I'm not promoting one way or another."

We dunno - polygamy sounds a lot more fun than living in a commune, but maybe we're just picturing the wrong communes...

Now, we could make fun of the obviousness of this Duh!scovery all day, but we couldn't help but notice that this article was actually edited by someone pretty famous - Paul Ehrlich! He of the book the Population Bomb, a MacArthur Prize Fellow and a reputation ruining bet with Julian Simon. Now he's down to editing Duh!scovery-worthy articles from the Fisheries Department of Michigan State. I guess that's what happens when you predict that starvation is going to wipe out 2/3rds of the planet's population (including England!) during your lifetime - I guess that obesity epidemic really blindsided him. Better not let him know about Morgan Spurlock!