Death. Is it good for the environment? A weird question isn’t it? I was quite shocked when I read the article below.
In many cultures, including my own, people who have died are cremated, rather than, buried. With this awareness one of my final requests will be for my body to buried and have a tree planted in my memory.

In a recent conference for science journalists held in Melbourne, biologist Roger Short of Melbourne University called for an end to cremation quoting figures on the greenhouse cost of cremations. He said that during a cremation process the average male body produces more than 50 kgm of carbon dioxide. This is the same level of emissions, he said, that one dozen cars gave as their drivers came to attend the funeral.

Here is an extract from his press release dated 17th April

“Think earth to earth,” he said, “but not ashes to ashes or dust to dust”. Professor Short’s proposal is that everyone should be buried […] next to their favourite species of tree. This would allow the remains to enrich the growth of the tree.

“Not for nothing are trees known as the lungs of the world”, he said.

“A single tree over a hundred-year period absorbs over a metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2), so imagine the difference it could make if everyone was buried and had a tree planted in their memory”.

“Photosynthesis in trees is the single most efficient way of sequestering CO2. Not only that, but they do what no other method of carbon minimisation can do, and that is to produce oxygen”, he said.

Professor Short’s idea comes in the wake of China’s policy of encouraging cremation due to lack of space and the Hindu practise in India of burning the body on a funeral pyre made of trees.

He said that in Australia during cremation, the average male produces over 50 kilograms of CO2 as the body is heated to 850 degrees centigrade for an hour and a half. “And that’s not counting the carbon cost of the fuel, and the cost of the emissions involved in producing and burning the wooden coffin”, he added. Professor Short acknowledges that there are cultural sensitivities, legal issues and other obstacles that would have to be overcome for the idea to take hold. However, he said that time was short and this was a practical idea that allows each one of us to do our bit to combat climate change.

Provided by Suraj Shah

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9 Comments

Vibhakar Modi · March 9, 2008 at 7:14 pm

I think this is a thought provoking notion. However, what about the land resources that may be needed to bury all those nearly billion or so Hindus around the world who will enentually die? Unfortunately the land needed for burial is never “recycled”. If Hindus were to look into burial as an alternative then vast amounts of land would have to be cleared for this purpose. The last rites are a very emotional set of events and people will want to do this “properly”, which might make use of many natural and man-made resources. It might be preferable to give one a burial at sea. But the social change needed for this type of advanced thinking may take centuries (if it ever happens at all in a meaningful way in the first place).

One must think about carbon emission in everything they do, however the issue is much larger than that. I think that some (one time) carbon emission may be tolerable if it saves a patch of land from ever being used for anything else (thereby putting pressure on other land to be converted for human use). By far, deforestation and destruction of natural resources is far greater threat to environment than carbon emissions have ever been. If all the land that has been cleared over millenia for human settlement, agriculture, and rampant consumption were still covered with trees and vegetation than the extra carbon compounds in the atmosphere would have been fixed naturally without creating such a big environmental concern.

Just my 2 cents, er, pennies!

Heena Modi · March 24, 2008 at 5:39 pm

You are right. Lots to think about! It’s not as simple as swapping from cremation to burial. I wonder if, with all these amazing minds we have on the ‘let’s be more green’ campaign, we cannot come up with an alternative solution!

Parag · February 17, 2009 at 9:02 pm

When bruied, the carbon in the human body will eventually decompose and lead to formation of carbon dioxide (albeit over a period of a couple of years, compared to a couple of hours when cremated). Hence the carbon fixed in the body when released either by cremation or burial will be equal.

Therefore, if one is cremated in an electrical furnace one only needs to consider the carbon equivalent of the electricity used (or the wood use, in case of a wooden pyre).

    Heena Modi · February 18, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Really?
    Very interesting!
    How did you come across this post Parag? It’s been on the site a while now. Just curious….

Parag · February 19, 2009 at 12:14 pm

I was going through the files in the jainvegans yahoogroup and came across the link to your post. 🙂

Parag.

Parag · February 19, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Heena,

More on green disposal of human bodies on the following link:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/02/17/dying.green/index.html

Parag.

Heena · February 19, 2009 at 12:38 pm

Here’s some info from the link that Parag sent me: –

CNN) — Carole Dunham, 69, loved the ocean. Last July, she was diagnosed with cancer and had only a few months to live. Dunham knew her last footprint had to be a green one, and she started looking into eco-friendly alternatives to traditional burial.

Carole Dunham, 69, had her remains memorialized on an offshore reef.

The concept of “going green” has taken new life in the death care industry as eco-minded companies tap into the needs of those like Dunham.

From biodegradable caskets to natural burial sites, death is becoming less of a dark matter than a green one.

Dunham, an avid scuba diver, chose an eco-friendly company that would combine her cremated remains to form an artificial memorial reef.

“She loved the idea of always being in the water as an alternative to being cremated and scattered,” said her daughter Nina Dunham.

Dying is arguably the most natural phenomenon in the world, but modern death rituals — embalming with formaldehyde-based solutions and traditional burial in concrete vaults — are not nature-friendly, according to environmentalists.

Along with its dead, the United States buries 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 827,060 tons of toxic embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of steel (from caskets), and 30 million tons of hardwood board each year, according to the Green Burial Council, an independent nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“We can rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge with that amount of metal,” said Joe Sehee, the council’s executive director. “The amount of concrete is enough to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit.”

Read more here – http://is.gd/k5mL

    Sue Cross · November 4, 2011 at 12:05 am

    The practice of embalming bodies, then putting them in a casket which is then placed in a cement liner–doesnʻt sound logical to me, either in space it continues to take up, nor in preventing what has been taken FROM the environment to be allowed to RETURN. Over time people have taken up a LOT of space and prevented a LOT of earthʻs resources from returning to replenish the source. Not many places in the USA will allow a body to be buried in a way that it will be made use of by our planet. So, perhaps cremation w control over emissions, or even using emissions to provide energy, would make sense?

      Heena Modi · November 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm

      Thanks for adding your comments.
      It makes sense.
      I don’t think anything is perfect but yes, it sounds like a ‘better’ way! 🙂
      How can we help make it happen? Write to MPs? Any ideas?

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