Your Long-Distance Relationship Is Ruining The Planet

Today, Slate's environmental column tells you that if you're dating from afar, you should be wracked with guilt: dating locally is much more sustainable. The emotional end? That's your selfish problem.

Barron YoungSmith gives the example of a hypocritical environmental consultant who has the gall to pursue a cross-continental relationship even as she preaches conservation.

Consider what happens when these two fly to see each other once a month. Since greenhouse gases emitted from high-altitude airplanes are thought to have several times the impact of ground transport, a carbon offset company would pin their romantic travels with the equivalent of 35 metric tons of CO2 each year. If that responsibility were divided evenly between the two, our sustainability consultant's lifestyle would be about six times worse for the environment than that of the average gas-guzzling American—and up to 10 times worse than that of the average San Franciscan. (Indeed, for her, breaking up would be about 10 times better for the environment than going vegetarian.)

Oh, and if you're driving? Even worse, you heedless solipsist! Indeed, by roughly calculating the number of long-distance couples in the country and tallying up the damage their travel has done, YoungSmith figures such hapless folks are pretty much single-handedly destroying the earth for the future generations they're so selfishly intent on begetting. The answer, of course, is a "Date Local" movement akin to our new conscientiousness about food and growing awareness of manufacturing practices.

Let's start thinking about "sex miles": Just how far was this person shipped to hook up with you? And how many times more efficient would it be to date someone within a 100-mile radius? If the movement spread globally, mirroring either the decentralized development of Local Food co-ops or the manifesto-and-chapter model that built up to the Slow Food movement's mega-confab this summer, its environmental benefits could multiply many times.

And, he adds, it wouldn't just help the planet: dating local would increase people's socialization - the implication is that such sad-sacks are slaves to their computer monitors — and the amount of sex they had, which would in turn result in important health benefits. Naturally, the author's tongue is, if not firmly, at least slightly in cheek: even he acknowledges the obvious drawbacks of enforcing such a policy:

Of course, like many eco-conscious attempts to instill social virtue, this proposal runs the risk of killing romance. Many a true human thrill—the high-octane cheeseburger! the long shower! the Chevy Suburban!—has been deflated by green evangelists out to render the personal political. And, in a way, long-distance dating is romantic precisely because it expends so much in the way of resources and effort...No, our Date Local movement won't be overbearing. It shouldn't try to break up every cross-country love odyssey. Instead, it will discourage this special type of conspicuous consumption at the margins, nudging people toward the realization that breaking up is in their own, and enlightened, economic self-interest.

In fact, the piece had the opposite effect on me: it made me realize that LD daters are one of the most marginalized and maltreated of subspecies! No one needs to be told the benefits of living in the same place! Does YoungSmith think people choose the agony of separation and loneliness deliberately? For the thrill of stressful travel, the inadequacy of scheduled phone calls, the awkwardness of getting to know each other anew each time and then the pain of parting after a visit? While there may be a few blithe souls who like the detachment of such a relationship, no one I know has regarded it as anything but a necessary evil. And leaving as huge an environmental footprint as he suggests? Most of us should be so lucky: we're at the mercy of high airfares and punishing work schedules. The LDR is one of the few things which has been unambiguously aided by modern technology — couples separated by necessity, or lonely folks who've had to look far afield to find love — and if anything, this beleaguered population should be getting a dispensation rather than a lecture!

This said, I'm all for Mother Earth and so I suggest that the rest of us form a counter-campaign: conserving a bit more to make up for our friends who can't. "Going Green for LDR" we'll call it, and live twice as locally if need be! Heck, I won't even take a car back from Ikea tonight if it means one couple can drive another two miles to see each other! We could even donate airmiles! "Dating locally", after all, doesn't make most of us feel smug — just lucky.

Date Local [Slate]