How would many academics fill their time without surveys to conduct? How would newspapers fill their pages in the silly seasons without the odd, weird or ‘fancy that’ results to comment upon? Nevertheless, though there are hundreds of such surveys published each month, I still find myself thinking up others I would wish to sponsor if I only had the funds.

One in particular combines what is generally regarded as a right-wing, religious theme with what most people take to be a left-wing, secular crusade, namely this: what are the environmental benefits of the institution of marriage?

Off the top of one’s head it seems evident that if a couple stays together, they are less likely to need two homes, to buy two sets of furniture or to run two cars. Heating bills would be lower, car journeys fewer, and so on. None of this, of course, follows directly, which is why a serious, properly devised survey would be necessary, but is it not likely that it would support the environmental credentials of this ancient and respectable institution?

Again, being married does not guarantee that a couple will stay together; but they are more likely to do so than a couple who merely cohabit; being married does not stop you buying a second home, car or washing machine, or wasting vast amounts of the world’s resources. Nevertheless, it would be worth studying whether individuals who are married end up using fewer resources than those who are not.

The steadily decreasing size of the average household over recent decades has required a massive house-building programme, with more trees being cut down, more countryside being destroyed and increasing pollution from higher energy use. If support for the sacrament of marriage led to a reverse in this trend, would not environmentalists be happy?

It is a lovely thought to imagine young, radical, anti-establishment environmentalists spluttering into their muesli, when they read that this country’s most important contribution to the fulfilling of the Kyoto protocols would be, not building wind farms or recycling plastic bags, but for people to (a) get married, and (b) stay married. It would make a good banner, ‘Tie the knot and save the planet.’