“He spake well that said that graves are the footprints of angels.”
-Henry Wordsworth Longfellow
In part 1 we learned, with the help of my polymath friend Joe Skulan, that shuffling off one’s mortal coil to a deep, coal-forming wetland would probably be the best way to ensure that one’s final greenhouse gas footprint was as small as possible. It goes without saying, though, that a bog burial would not be the most practical, or culturally acceptable, option for most Americans. Besides, wetlands have enough problems as it is.
The symbolically elegant but physically messy sky burial, wherein the remains of the departed are carried up to a great height for the vultures and other scavenging animals to break down and recycle — a practice common in Tibet and a few other Asian countries — would probably have to be ruled out for the same reason.
Although the U.S. Government does not restrict full-body burial at sea to U.S. military personnel or infamous terrorists — under certain guidelines anyone may take their eternal rest at the bottom of the ocean for free — the climatological costs, in the form of fossil-fuel emissions, would be steep unless one lived close to the coast and owned a large sailboat.
We also learned in part 1 that the modern conventional funeral and burial is very likely the worst choice for the climate-conscious corpse. A fossil fuel-intense (pardon the pun) undertaking from the start, conventional body preparation and burial sends vast amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over a span of decades. Although I did not elaborate in part 1, the conventional route is also environmentally harmful in a host of other ways. For one thing, it turns carbon-sequestering green space into well-manicured toxic waste sites that require a staggering amount of fossil fuel to maintain, and consumes enormous amounts of other natural resources. Using statistics from reliable sources including the Casket and Funeral Association of America, the Cremation Association of North America, the Rainforest Action Network and the Pre-Posthumous Society, one writer estimated that every year the 22,500 cemeteries in the U.S. bury approximately 827,060 gallons of fossil fuel-derived embalming fluid, 90,272 tons of steel, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze and over 30 million board feet of hardwoods. Burial vaults consume 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete with 14,000 tons of steel.
Furthermore, cremations have only a marginally smaller carbon footprint and environmental impact than conventional modern burials due to the amount of fossil fuels used and resulting greenhouse-gas and -particulate pollution. A few funeral homes have started to offer packages that include carbon offsets, but personal offsetting is a concept struggling to gain traction even among committed environmentalists.
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