Going Home to Mother Earth

Green Burials

By Seneca

Going Home to Mother Earth

In Tibet they have something called a “sky burial”. It is traditional

for the remains of the newly departed to be laid out in a very loving manner by Buddhist monks and family members in special areas without any protection. Birds are then allowed to clean the body of flesh. A Buddhist monk named “Garloji” recently said in a New York times article, “When the body dies, the spirit leaves, so there is no need to keep the body. The birds, they think they are just eating. Actually they are removing the body and completing part of life’s cycle.” For Tibetans, sky burial is a reflection of their strong devotion and adherence to the practice of Buddhism, which views life and death as parts of the same eternal cycle. Death is seen as natural, and a part of life. This stands in great contrast to Western views on the subject. Especially, American views on eternal rest. Americans will spend over $5,000 thousand dollars on the average funeral according to the National Funeral Director’s Association, and that is without the additional costs of round $4000 in cemetery charges. For the consumer, green burials are considerably cheaper than standard funerals. Most average about half the cost of a modern conventional funeral. More than half of the funeral industry is now corporate owned. “Your body now belongs to Wall Street,” said Karen Leonard, a researcher on the funeral industry expose.

“The American Way of Death Revisited,” in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The corporate mentality has indeed invaded once spiritual space. Cemeteries have become landfills of embalming chemicals and cement. The U.S. funeral industry pulls in more than $16 billion dollars from the 2.5 million deaths in the U.S. each year. American burials mean most people have their loved ones remains embalmed, sealed in a metal, plastic or wood casket and buried in a cement vault. Along with those burials comes more than 14,000 tons of steel, 90,000 tons of cement, 2700 tons of copper and bronze in coffins, and more than 30 million board feet of hard-woods. In addition to the 800, 000 gallons of toxic embalming fluid. Although the Environmental Protection Agency says that the formal-dehyde and human wastes from buried, and embalmed bodies can potentially cause disease in humans or harm aquatic life, no studies have shown conclusively that embalmed bodies are a risk to water supplies and soil. However, Joshua Slocum, Execu tive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit group said “From a common sense standpoint, putting a chemical that the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations deems toxic to the ground certainly can’t be beneficial to the environment.” However, all that is beginning to change with the concept of green burials. Today’s baby boomer generation are beginning to redefine the funeral industry, because of a greater sensitivity about the environment, and a return to a more basic, simply spirituality. They are finding greater value in ecologically friendly burials. The baby boomers are beginning to favor memorials that reflect the life of the person and the way they lived, rather than the duty of burial of past generations. Funeral Directors say the baby-boomer generation wants to give something back, and green burials reflect their changing values more accurately than the present standard burials of today. The idea behind green burials is simple. Bodies are not embalmed, there are no elaborate caskets made of metal or hardwoods. Burial shrouds or simple biodegradable coffins made of wood or cardboard are used. Concrete grave liners or vaults that prevent the ground from settling are avoided. Significantly, instead of manicured lawns, native plants and wildflowers are allowed to flourish, turning the burial ground into a nature preserve. Green burials preserve the land and create a habitat for animals. There are currently three green burial habitats in the United States. Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina, Glendale preserve near De-Funiak Springs, Florida, and significantly for Texans, the Ethican Family Cemetery near Lake Livingston in San Jacinto County in East Texas.
The Ethician Family Cemetery is touted as the first green “family” cemetery in the United States largely because it is the first which has been divided into family plots of up to 1/3 acre each. It is also the largest natural burial ground in the United States. The Ethician Family Cemetery is connected to the Ethican Church whose spiritual philosophy as described in their publication,
“The Ethician News Network”, “is to follow the biblical concept of “dust to dust” which demands natural burial in God’s wilderness, and thus protects, preserves and enriches a part of Creation”. Ethician Bishop and Prelate, George H. Russell’s dream took 35 years to materialize. It began when he and his wife were conducting research in cultural ecology, and linguistics in what was then British Honduras, now Belize. As owners of one of the only working vehicles in their vicinity, Bishop and Mrs. Russell were sometimes asked to trans port bodies into the rainforest for burial. Bishop Russell said, “I could feel the spiritual essence of the magnificent forest as created by God, welcome the mortal remains which could feed the forest, bringing forth orchids and other tropical flowers as well as fruits to feed God’s creatures both great and small. I knew then that the time honored ancient method of natural burial is what God intended. The American death industry consumes both money and the earth’s resources. Natural burials cost little and enrich the earth.” In the Ethican cemetery, each family that acquires a plot is encouraged to erect a historical marker outlining a brief history of the family along the forested pathways leading to the various plots. Individual graves may be marked with a simple marker, and families are encouraged to use their plots for beloved family pets as well. There are even provi ions for sky burials for “Large pets such as horses, elephants, or tigers. The Universal Ethican Church is open to all faiths, as long as a person loves and cares for all creation. Plots are contingent on admission to the church, but other factors are considered. It will come to a surprise to many people that there are several religious traditions who follow the basic tenants of green burial. For example, traditional Jewish burial rites view embalming as a desecration of the deceased. Only coffins made completely of wood are allowed, a metal coffin is considered a disrespectful effort to artificially preserve the dead. Newcomers to the idea of green burials should get used to the idea that a green burial is not about extra work, or expense, it’s about simplicity, and less expense, and a return to our ancient heritage. Green burials aren’t unique or unusual ceremonies. Advocates say what people need to remember is that this is not a new thing, this is a return to what we did before the commercial funeral industry came along. Americans have turned to other alternative burial and memorial options in huge numbers. By far the most popular is cremation.

E Magazine reports that cremation in the United States has tripled since 1972 to almost 600,000 funerals per year. Industry predictions are that cremation funerals will be the procedure of choice for 40 percent of Americans. Cremations were performed for more than 27 cent of all deaths in 2002 at an average cost of $1,000 to $1200, in contrast to the cost of a burial with a coffin which averaged to $5,394.24 in 2003. According to the Cremation Association of North America, 17 percent of those who chose cremation did so for environ mental reasons, but the majority chose cremations because of financial considerations. Nicholas Albery, an editor of “The New Natural Death Handbook”, is quoted by E Magazine: “Anyone with green pretensions should think twice about cremation, which pollutes the atmosphere with dioxin, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide, byproducts of the container one is cremated in and the process itself.” However, the shift to cremation has also facilitated more environmentally friendly memorial sites for cremated remains such as the one that Horan and McConaty, a funeral home in Aurora Colorado has opened. Their one-acre Rocky Mountain Memorial Park includes a waterfall and a pond. Horan and McConaty President John Horan stated, “ I was very passionate that this have an organic feel to it, I wanted people to feel like they are ina high mountain meadow.” Another option is a company called Eternal Reefs in Atlanta Georgia. Eternal Reefs mix concrete with cremated remains into a preformed casts to make hollow spheres. The spheres are then donated to county and state reef restoration groups who sink them offshore to help build artificial reefs for marine life. ESA Community Drum