We recently came across a blog post on www.theconversation.com, posted by Robert John Young, Professor of Wildlife Conservation at Salford University.
The blog post is an exploration through today's funeral options and their environmental impact. Cremation and traditional burial are of course discussed, as are the more contemporary options of sky burial, burial at sea, and woodland burials.
It is a personal reflection of the choices people must make when a parent has left no preferences. It also highlights people's growing inclination to choose something more environmentally friendly, moving away from ordinary, conventional affairs.
However, although we enjoyed his account and the pros and cons it addresses, we felt the need to set the facts straight relating to burial and global warming. So to clarify this, and the other factors to consider when choosing what to do with your or a relative's mortal remains, here's our table:
Click the table to enlarge.
Find Professor Robert John Young's blog post here - be sure to read the comments:
In response to Marc Jahr's blog post in the NYT, October 30th 2013.
'We need cemeteries.' Agreed, but what sort is where we may differ.
Marc's answer to his presumption, 'when memory dies, the departure from life is irrevocable' is to endorse our more materialistic side and remember the dead with 'cheap marble, glass enclosed boxes and fake flowers', oh dear.
They may be endearing, to some, but they are surely not endearing our planet. Quite the opposite. Professor Christopher Coutts' blog post can be found in the same New York Times debate as Mr Jahr's, and highlights the damage being done by municipal cemeteries and traditional funerals, 'the resources that go into the ground every year associated with a typical cemetery burial translate into: enough wood to frame over 2,300 single-family homes; sufficient steel to erect almost 15 Eiffel Towers; nearly four times as much concrete as was used to build the Pentagon,' the list goes on.
At the current rate, we will have to start tearing down more mountain sides for tombstone granite, burning more fuel to ship them around the world, only to convert our meadows into cemeteries to be populated by such stones. We'll soon be living in the land of the dead. We'll be surrounded by them!
The answer then, I hear you call.
Altruism is not an ideal often linked with burial – after all, there's not much more you can do when you're dead – but to be socially, environmentally and economically responsible at the time of a funeral is a marvellous way to mark your exit, and entirely possible.
The fact that cemeteries are seen as 'parallel worlds of stone, fading photographs, diminishing memories and death' is not how it should be. On the contrary – just have a look at the galleries of our natural burial grounds. Cemeteries should be places where families feel comfortable returning, where embracing the surroundings can bring back feelings of happiness, not morbidity.
Many find that a municipal cemetery has too much to remind them of a dead relative which may be why they seek an alternative, such as natural burial. With this, a family doesn't have to tend a grave or replace faded photographs; the serenity and surrounding nature embody those buried there. Because of this, just being in the place where someone is buried can fulfil a person's need to remember their lost relative or friend. It's simple, natural and beautiful, it does exactly what it says on the leaflet. Surely a tree is more poignant than a plastic posy?
And if poignancy is what your soul is after, you only need to look at the BBC's recent survey that found of the 358 participating British local authorities, a quarter would no longer have cemetery space in less than a decade.
The argument that tombstones and mausoleums 'satisfies a deeper communal need to remember and honour the past' is no longer good enough. To say that as a man's image fades, 'the memory of him was fading, becoming indistinct, in the minds of his brothers and sisters, his children and their children' doesn't sit right either, even a little insulting.
The facts are telling us we're headed for a dead end, so let's not bury our heads in the sand, let's bury them in natural burial grounds.
The BBC's recent survey
Our natural burial grounds
The concept behind Natural Burial is one of giving back to nature. The body is returned to the earth,
clad in only natural, biodegradable materials, without toxic preservative treatment and at shallower
depth, to encourage transformation by nature in the living layer of the soil.
Natural Burial Grounds vary greatly in style and approach. The common theme is they offer an area
dedicated to Natural Burial. They range from grazed meadows to memorial gardens, from existing
woodland to land now dedicated to becoming new woodland, from nature reserves within towns to
wild, open country. Ideally each should have a sustainable plan for the long-term future.
Many of us can relate to the idea of being returned to the earth when we die – a bit of gentle
recycling. Others are inspired by a reaction to what they don’t want – the industrialisation of death,
a religious service, or a formal set piece ceremony. Most like the idea that they will not burden the
next generation with a grave to tend. The simplicity and ‘no-fuss’ surrounding natural burial appeals
too. Natural burial grounds offer an informal setting with more time, more space and more meaning;
they are growing in popularity as more people experience this alternative.
All grave locations are plotted and recorded, but the ‘eco-friendly’ stance of natural burial grounds
varies widely. Some allow memorials on the graves, benches and vases; they accept embalmed
bodies, plastic-lined and chipboard coffins. Others are dedicated to preserving the landscape and
maintaining a sustainable future for the land after the income from burials comes to an end – and
may adopt a genuinely environmentally responsible approach.
Although the number of natural burial grounds is increasing every year, the closest might be further
away than your local cemetery, so think about whether the distance of getting there and back is
important to you. For many, the knowledge that the land management takes care of the grave and
that person buried there would appreciate being there means fewer visits are made.
If you like the idea of natural burial, why not call a few operators and visit them ahead of time –
perhaps at different times of the year to see what they feel like through the seasons. Then you can
be sure of finding a site to suit you and your family.
environmentally sustainable plan for the future.
Stories and thoughts from the Leedam camp.
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