Nearly every aspect of our lives impacts the environment. Death, unfortunately, is no exception. And just as more and more people are considering how the choices they make in life can affect the health of the planet, so, too, are more people searching for a meaningful way to make their end-of-life less demanding on the natural world.
And it’s no wonder, considering that the typical American funeral requires the extraction and consumption of vast amounts of resources and leaves a trail of damage in its wake.
Complete article at Boulder Weekly archives.
For local alternatives to the “typical American funeral,” including home funerals and guidance in reducing the environmental impact of a funeral, contact:
P.O. Box 17848
Boulder, CO 80308
For more information on Ramsey Creek Preserve or to learn about the consulting services offered to those who wish to start their own conservation burial ground, contact:
Memorial Ecosystems, Inc.
111 West Main St.
Westminster, SC 29693
For information on Prairie Wilderness Cemeteries, including how to get involved or express interest in a natural burial, contact:
Prairie Wilderness Cemeteries
P.O. Box 181028
Denver, CO 80218
"Living Simply" Column for March 6, 2006 in The Durango Herald
by Nancy Jacques, reprinted here with permission of the author.
Drive a couple of hours east of Denver. While some would say there's nothing out there, others might see a million acres of pasture, small towns or Kansas. Laina Corazon Coit and Rick Chase see potential, a prairie restored, the largest privately held wilderness area in America, which also will serve as the last resting place for thousands of Americans wanting to be buried naturally.
Coit and Chase's goals are lofty, but they're neither unrealistic nor impractical when others also believe. Matter of fact, people from coast to coast are pursuing similar endeavors, preserving natural landscapes by creating green burial havens, or eco-cemeteries. Though only a handful of these cemeteries are in full operation, as of 1996 these centers began serving as models, their staff receiving annually hundreds of requests for assistance in starting up similar kinds of land conservancy cemeteries.
Call these sanctuaries living legacies, the natural way to go that reduces the need for 828,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 30 million board feet of hardwood or 104,270 tons of steel for caskets and vaults, and nearly 3,000 tons of copper and bronze that go into trimmings annually. With no embalming or other preservatives allowed in green burials, no fiberglass or leak-proof caskets and cement vaults, no fancy headstones as memorials, the deceased are placed in shrouds of cotton or linen and are laid to rest directly in the earth. Or they're placed in biodegradable cardboard or pine boxes that permit a real return to the earth. Pets and people alike become part of a forest, mountainside or meadow they once loved, their placement located by small markers or GPS coordinates.
Hospice personnel working with eco-cemetery professionals and volunteers speak highly of the intimacy associated with natural burials, how families and friends can participate directly in burying a loved one, if they wish, and how the integrity of the natural landscape being joined with a loved one helps provide a tangible experience of life's cycles, which aids the grieving process.
Perhaps not the subject you anticipated reading about with morning coffee, or the evening glass of wine, but unlike most news this topic has a positive twist that can make planning for the inevitable more comfortable, especially when you think of the economic advantages and potentials eco-cemeteries have for assisting communities in land use planning and conservation.
According to the National Funeral Directors Association the average cost of a conventional burial is $6,000 to $10,000 dollars. Cost for a green burial, including initial investment in land preservation: $1,000 to $3,000 dollars.
Because of the expense of conventional burials, and because we live in a mobile society, many people specify cremation in their last wishes. This may be less expensive, but environmental costs of placing a body in a cremation chamber that is heated to between 1,400-1,800 degrees Fahrenheit for about two hours aren't discussed. Consumer's Guide, however, points out you could drive 4,800 miles on the fuel used for one cremation.
We could go to the moon and back 85 times with the cremation fuel used in the U.S. each year. And upon entering the atmosphere, in lieu of the earth, we're accompanied by nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and hydrogen fluoride. Not a pleasant parting gift. Still, cremation has social advantages, especially when you consider the flip side of the burial topic: birth rates and population. Three hundred million of us soon will be vying for space above ground in the U.S. Where will the living put us when our time for work, play and love comes to a screeching halt?
Between 1982 and 1997, America developed about 5,500 acres of land per day. Farm fields, wetlands, forests, grasslands and deserts vanished. In trade we have highways, parking lots, subdivisions, airports, golf courses, factories and shopping malls. Quite the legacy, not counting needed new cemeteries, their development a sad paradox in shrinking natural habitats.
While society considers burial sites sacred, territory that should never to be developed, statistics reveal cemeteries are visited twice, on average, by family members after a death. This means these sacred areas - thousands of acres of fertilized high maintenance lawns - become lonely places no one enjoys on a regular basis.
Now imagine natural, unfertilized areas being preserved with native vegetation that increases private property values and retains regional character. Imagine corridors of habitats supporting wildlife migrations and trails for passive use respecting the sacredness of burial sites. Imagine people getting together, grouping their funds and purchasing land they wish to preserve because they love it and want to leave it as a legacy with multiple meanings. It is possible.
Nancy Jacques works in environmental consulting as a writer and publisher. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.