GOING UP IN SMOKE
Despite the recent efforts of some local authorities to encourage it, cremation is not a fitting way to dispose of your body after you die, according to the founder of Natural Burials, Mark Blackham.
Cremation turns your body into air pollution and barren ash. In our era of personal choice and environmental consciousness, it is odd that some City councils have recently decided to increase burial prices to encourage people to use cremation.
Studies of emissions reveal that cremation turns people into at least 46 different pollutants. Some of these, like nitrous oxides and heavy metals, remain in the atmosphere for up to 100 years causing ozone depletion and acid rain.
Society is becoming once again less fearful of death. People are demanding more involvement, more personalisation, and more choice in what happens to their body after they die.
At the vanguard of that change is natural burials – the concept of being buried without embalming, in a bio-degradable casket, at less than half the depth of the traditional burial, so your body is returned to the earth rapidly. A tree is planted over your grave, which becomes part of a new natural forest.
The natural decomposition processes utilised by a natural burial rapidly returns your body to the soil in the shape of around a dozen fundamental life-giving nutrients.
Not only do many people find the acres of bush in a natural cemetery a fitting memorial to their lives, they also regard returning their body to the ecosystem as a far better legacy to leave for future generations.
Natural burials are bringing human death practices full circle.
For thousands of years early humans buried their dead in simple shallow fashion. Cremations only emerged relatively late in human history. It first arose in the Western world when Romans sought to mimic the dramatic fiery end of their great mythical heroes. Entombments soon replaced cremations thanks to the smart marketing of elaborately carved sarcophagi. By the fifth century cremation had become almost completely obsolete following the spread of Christianity, with its associated belief in the resurrection of the dead (thought to be a bit difficult if your body had been burned to a cinder).
Cremation was revived in 1869 as an idea at the Medical International Congress of Florence, and a model of a cremating apparatus and ashes was exhibited at the Vienna Exposition in 1873.
The first crematorium was built in the UK in 1885. The first crematorium in New Zealand was opened 24 years later, in Karori, Wellington.
Although New Zealand has one of the highest rates of cremations – around 70% of all deaths – the practice has met with mixed success internationally. In Britain only 56% of people are cremated, and in America only 26% of deaths are cremations (although the Cremation Association claims 39%).
Given the high cremation rate here, it is hard to understand why local councils think they face bigger cemetery issues than other countries.
I cannot leave under-answered recent claims that cremations are environmentally better because they reduce pressure on available land, and are “clean”.
The pressure on land and the environment is living humans, not dead ones.
If there is a ‘problem’ posed by cemeteries, it is traditional burial methods. We are the only species in which the dead do not return naturally to the eco-system. Long-life coffins, deep burial and embalming result in the dead remaining intact for a very long time.
Councils are worried by the realisation that, hundreds of years after you die, they will still need to meet the costs of mowing around your grave and re-erect your crumbling gravestone.
They are also jittery about the cost of buying land for new cemeteries, and the costs of owning intensely valuable cemetery land that can’t be sold or developed.
But if traditional burials seem problematic, let us consider the real effects of cremations.
Bodies take up to three hours to burn in a crematorium, using up large quantities of fuels like electricity or natural gas.
The process emits pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur oxide, mercury, dioxin, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, cadmium and chromium.
Although transport and raw industries are the biggest contributors to air pollution, crematoriums are statistically significant polluters.
The European Environment Agencies Emission Inventory Guidebook says crematoria contribute 0.2 % of the total emissions of dioxins and furans – among the most environmentally destructive and long lasting pollutants.
San Francisco’s Public Works Department found in 1999 that crematoria were the third-highest contributor of mercury (from burning amalgam fillings).
Crematoriums claim to comply with environmental standards, but standards are relatively weak. For example, “clean-burning” crematoriums only reduce visible particle emissions, not the real pollutants.
Sadly, the remaining ashes are of no use to the environment either. Ashes are so inert that the soil in cemetery flower beds needs regular replacement to prevent accumulating dead ash choking the life out of plants.
A natural burial offers a far better alternative to both cremation and traditional burial.
It is better for the environment and a more satisfying choice for many of the dying and their families.
The greatest thing we can do upon our death is to be buried naturally, and lock land up in bush to be enjoyed by future generations of humans and flora and fauna.
Permission is granted to reprint this article, as long as the author and source are attributed prominently; Mark Blackham, www.naturalburials.com