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Divorce is not a crime – environmentally or otherwise

One of the things you might worry about if you’re getting divorced is what people will think of you. Will you be judged harshly by your peers because your marriage has collapsed? Will you be ostracised by some of your friends?

Happily, the stigma of divorce has diminished dramatically over the past couple of decades. The prevalence of marital breakdown has made it socially acceptable to be a “divorcee”. There is no shame, any longer, in admitting to having a failed marriage behind you.

This is good news for anyone going through a process that inevitably throws up feelings of guilt.

I was annoyed, therefore, to read in a newspaper last weekend that the “green brigade” has introduced a new source of guilt for divorcees – an environmental one.

According to The Sunday Times, scientists have quantified for the first time the extent to which divorce damages the environment. The researchers found that the combined use of electricity across the two new households created a 53 per cent rise, while water use was up by 42 per cent.

Across America – one of 12 countries studied – divorced households used 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2005 that could have been saved if the families had stayed together.

“The global trend of soaring divorce rates has created more households with fewer people, has taken up more space and has gobbled up more energy and water,” said Jianguo Liu of Michigan University, who carried out the research.

Now, if you’re going through a divorce, or have recently been through one, the last thing you want to hear is that you’ve harmed the environment. The fact you’ve harmed your equilibrium, your financial set-up and maybe your children is quite enough to be coming to terms with, thank you. You don’t need to be accused of damaging the planet as well.

Whilst I doubt anyone will fret too much over this particular story, it does demonstrate the “stealth guilt” that taken the place of social stigma. We are regularly reminded by the self-righteous media that divorce plays havoc with children’s emotional well-being and educational prospects, that it can be the harbinger to ill-health and so on.

Almost everyone who goes through a divorce feels guilt on some level and can well do without being made to feel even more culpable by a constant flow of studies and pronouncements that seek to quantify the emotional, physical and financial fallout of marital breakdown.

Those of us who have been there fully understand the problems divorce can cause, but being encouraged to feel guiltier about them is counter-productive. Guilt is a wasted emotion and does nothing to help people turn a negative experience into a positive one. Because escaping a miserable marriage can be hugely positive and empowering and many people are able to learn from their mistakes and move on to lead happier, more fulfilling lives. If, by doing so, they damage the planet, then so be it. The planet, as it’s done for millions of years, will learn to adapt.

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