Center for Limited Government Newsletter – September 9, 2010


by William Duncan and Bryce Christensen


Utahns have in recent years felt the pressure of bipartisan appeals for lifestyle changes that will protect the environment – especially the mountain valley air that can turn into toxic fog when temperature inversions trap vehicle exhaust in Salt Lake and Utah valleys.  Utah’s Republican Governor Gary Herbert has joined with Salt Lake City’s Democratic Mayor Ralph Becker and Salt Lake County’s Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon in challenging Utahns to ride public transit, to walk or ride a bike whenever possible, to carpool, to trip chain, to shop at closer stores, and to keep their automobiles well-tuned.  Acting on the list of proposals may require some life changes, but proponents argue that these changes are necessary to prevent environmental problems and diminished quality of life in our communities.


Few would quarrel with the objectives these leaders are pursuing.  But those who scrutinize their environmental agenda may conclude that it is incomplete because some of the lifestyle changes that could make the biggest difference in protecting the environment are curiously absent from the political leaders’ list.  For Utahns who are serious about protecting the environment will worry not only about ways to drive their cars less, but also about how they can keep their cars as far away from divorce court as possible.


The idea that divorce harms the environment has received remarkably little attention, but it is an idea supported by careful analysis and empirical research.  After all, when divorce fractures one household into two, it only stands to reason that the fission creates new demands for resources in ways that will harm the environment.  It is entirely predictable that in a study completed in 2007 at Michigan State’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability, researchers concluded that divorce produces a “resource inefficient lifestyle” that makes it harder for society “to achieve global environmental sustainability.”  Parsing resource-use data collected in 2005, the Michigan State researchers calculate that “U.S. households that [had] experienced divorce used 42-61 percent more resources per person than before their dissolution.”


When the focus turns to the issue that has recently exercised Utah’s political leaders – that is, unnecessary automobile travel and exhaust – the Michigan State researchers suggest that “visits between divorced parents and their children also increase energy consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases.”  Going further, these scholars reason that “delays in first marriage…and increases in separated couples” may be regarded as “alternate lifestyles [that] may create environmental impacts similar to divorce through a reduction in average household size and an increase in the number of households” (See Eunice Yu and Jianguo Liu, “The Environmental Impacts of Divorce,”  PNAS 104.51 [2007]: 20629-20634.


As a society, Utah has yet to pay much attention to this important research into how lifestyle decisions that destroy marriage and family also harm the environment.  Of course, we are hardly alone in ignoring an Inconvenient Truth that seems to have eluded even environmental crusader Al Gore – now on his way to divorce court.  Perhaps the problem is that Utah family policy now looks pretty much like other states’ family policies in its acceptance of the casual divorces that permissive laws have helped cause.  Indeed, few policymakers in Utah or elsewhere have seemed to recognize the importance of how marriage rates have tumbled, especially among the many, many young people who have grown up in the dark shadow of divorce.


The terrible human costs of these divorces should have captured society’s attention long before now.  But if we are truly serious about joining forces to resolve our urgent environmental concerns, we must now finally recognize the vital importance of fostering political and social conditions that fortify rather than undermine marriage.  Even more important than carpooling or trip-chaining, safeguarding marriage is essential in any serious plan for giving us a truly healthy environment.


Co-author Bryce J. Christensen, Ph.D., is associate professor of English at Southern Utah University and adjunct fellow of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He is a contributing editor to The Family in America and author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America (Transaction, 2005). He has also published articles on family issues inSociety, The Public Interest, Policy Review, Modern Age, and other journals.


Co-author William C. Duncan, J.D., is director of the Marriage Law Foundation and is the director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.



On Wednesday, October 13, Sutherland Institute will team with The Heritage Foundation to host the third session of its award-winning Transcend Series:


Do Principles Matter Anymore?
Understanding and Implementing Principle-Based Governance


Sutherland President Paul Mero will join with The Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Spalding and Michael Franc to facilitate a discussion on the topic.  Mr. Mero will begin by addressing thecontext of principle-based governance within a conservative intellectual framework.  Mr. Spalding will address its meaning and constitutional basis.  Mr. Franc will explain how such governance looks in practice.


Mr. Spalding connects the principles of America’s founding with today’s thorniest issues as director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at The Heritage Foundation.  Mr. Franc, vice-president of legislative affairs, leads a Heritage team that helps members of Congress understand and defend conservative principles in exercising their constitutional powers to approve budgets, make laws and oversee government operations.


Following check-in and seating at 8:30 a.m., the session will begin at 9:00 a.m. and conclude at 3:00 p.m.  The venue will be the Sutherland Institute Conference Room, located in the Crane Building, 307 West 200 South, Suite 5005, in downtown Salt Lake City.


There is no charge for this event and limited free parking is available in the Crane Building’s south parking lot, along the adjacent streets.  Pay parking is located in the lot immediately south of the building ($5 for the day).  Light snacks will be provided.  There will be a lunch break on your own at one of the many nearby restaurants.


Because seating is reserved, please register by sending an email to or calling our office at 801-355-1272.



Sutherland Institute’s The Center for Family and Society released Religious Practice and Educational Attainment on Thursday, a compilation of various studies which demonstrates that religious practice in the home has a significant effect on a child’s level of academic achievement.


According to Religious Practice, “Education is widely recognized as the way to maintain the well-being of those born into the middle class.  It is also a powerful tool to raise individuals out of poverty…If religious practice were to have a significantly positive role in education, then the practice of religion would have profound implications for world economies and societies.” The paper details both the direct and the indirect effects of religion in the home on educational accomplishment.


Religious practice directly affects a student’s ability to perform: for example, students involved in religious activities have higher GPAs and spend more time on their homework. Additionally, religion is one of few readily accessible institutions for lower-income families, making its effect on children’s academic success particularly significant.


Student success is also affected indirectly by religion, through the various “pathways” detailed in this paper. The pathways include both internal, personal dynamics and external, communal networks.


On a personal level, religious practice assists in internalizing norms that encourage academic attainment, in developing work habits and high personal expectations of achievement, and in reducing behavioral risks.


The paper also considers the external pathways through which religious practice at home enhances scholastic performance. For example, the internalized norms that encourage achievement are taught and reinforced through family interaction. The company of religious peers encourages academic focus while discouraging risky behavior. Churches and religious schools offer community and solidarity, supplementing sometimes-sparse student resources and offering mentorship. Planned religious extracurricular activities have the added benefit of eliminating unstructured “hanging out,” which, in abundance, is correlated with poor academic performance.


Religious Practice and Educational Attainment also examines some negative correlations between religiosity and academic achievement: some denominations discourage education out of concern that it will weaken students’ religious convictions. In conclusion, it recommends that future research be more precise in its terminology, which would allow greater insight into the effects that religion in the home has on educational achievement.