Charles Cowling


Posted by Richard Rawlinson


Back in the day, it was a given of the natural order that the decomposition of our remains made us part of the food chain. In the last few decades, the negative environmental impact of burial and cremation has become an ethical issue. Although there’s increasing scepticism towards scientific claims about man-made global warming, one can still want to reduce air, soil and water pollution, with its adverse affects on our health and that of wildlife. 

Embalming chemicals; hardwood coffins; concrete vaults; quarried headstones; marble mausoleums; processional motorcades; non-organic flowers and refreshments: all on the bad list. 

Cardboard coffins and biodegradable urns; planting a tree to mark a resting place; new crematoria chimneys that reduce emissions; removal of mercury-amalgam fillings before cremation; car-sharing and locally-sourced refreshments: all on the good list. 

While dictating the menu of the buffet and the material of headstones might seem too finger-wagging, there’s a case for reducing toxins by replacing embalming formaldehyde with glutaraldehyde, which is less poisonous, and designing ‘clean’ smokestacks. 

That’s the beauty of technological evolution. Sophisticated Man’s primal survival instinct remains intact, He devises solutions to problems that arise. People argue over the best course of action, or the urgency of action, but the doomsayers are invariably silenced. 

Nuclear fuel and GM food polarise opinion when proposed as the sustainable answer to the world’s needs. Some see wind farms as an answer while others see them as useless energy generators that guzzle fossil fuel in their construction, slice up birds and damage tourism as eco-eyesores. 

In his new book, Watermelons (so-titled because they’re green on the outside and red on the inside), James Delingpole discusses the Climategate scandal in which tax payer-funded scientists manipulated research in the most unscientific ways to make man-made warming claims stand up. Their lies, cover-ups, distortions and exaggerations, claims Delingpole, have caused mass hysteria resulting in liberties curtailed and trillions of pounds squandered. 

What’s your take on the green movement’s influence on the funeral industry? Necessary initiatives welcomed by today’s consumers? Or overdone and greeted with apathy or scepticism?    

9 thoughts on “Death kills?

  1. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Ru, it’s great that a green ‘DIY’ funeral has deep social, aesthetic and indeed spiritual dimensions as well as environmental benefits.

    Given the choice, say, between a big, marble memorial and a tree, many would agree the latter is beautiful on many levels as well as benign. But others would feel a cultural affinity with the former.

    My only gripe with the green movement is when they focus more on small, individual energy savings, which don’t seem to make much difference, rather than let us consume in greener ways with the help of science and technology.

    I dislike people saying, for example, we should limit breeding because mankind is harmful to the planet. The planet is arguably not over-populated. Man needs to adapt to be more in harmony with the planet but this can be achieved without population reductions and massive consumption limits – if we find more effective technological solutions.

    Individual gestures are welcome as personal preference, whether motivated by energy saving or something more. I’m relatively austere myself when it comes to possessions. But I wouldn’t want a government to ban big families or tell us we can’t have a big memorial, or even a second car.

    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Ru Callender

    For us, a green funeral has come to mean more about the social aspects than the environmental, which are just everyday modern commonsense actions; reducing chemical use, sourcing sustainable products etc. For us, it means a whole mindset, an involvement in the process that might best be summed up in the acronym DIY. I think Charles assertion that the green funeral movement is governed by aesthetic and pastoral ideals is partly true, if a little reductive. It is quite a sophisticated response to our shifting religious needs, a search for better meaning through practical doings.
    It is also possible to come at things from a variety of angles. We are opposed to embalming, but the last objection we have to it is environmental.

    Charles Cowling
  3. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Vale, I of course agree the environment is an issue for scientists and indeed economists. This is why some people focus on proposing solutions such as nuclear fuel replacing fossil fuel rather than the Greenpeace crowd focussing on the forward-to-the-Middle-Ages alternative.

    Some greens seem misanthropic, making today’s humans the enemy of the planet and future generations and expecting them to stop consuming instead of finding scientific solutions where we can sustainably enjoy the benefits of modern living – and in so doing sustain the economy as well as the planet.

    Noone is saying don’t trust scientists. Some have clearly lied about the extent of man-made global warming. Some have clearly been silenced for dissenting. However, if the answer is “we don’t yet know” that still leads to needing to do something. The reasonable reaction to uncertainty is insurance: the less we know about the effects of climate change, the more we ought to do about it. If you know the chance of your house burning down is one in a million then you’ll not be willing to pay more than one millionth of its worth to insure it. But if you are uncertain what the risk is then you are willing to pay more of the value in order to gain insurance.

    Personally, I don’t listen to the scaremongering hippies on the Left or the do-nothing sceptics on the Right. We already pay green taxes to provide the economic solution, and I’m optimistic technology will continue to deliver solutions ensuring the planet’s survival. The rest is just tinkering around the edges which, as Charles puts well. could well be governed by aesthetic ideals first, and by environmental ideals second.

    Charles Cowling
  4. Charles Cowling

    We only go through all this palaver with coffins, vehicles, crematoria, burial grounds, mortuaries, registrars, uniforms, ceremonies, vol-au-vents and huge lumps of imported stone for one foolish reason: we’re squeamish about corpses.

    Let them rot where they drop (or move them conveniently to the side of the road at most) for the animals and insects to make good use of, and the question becomes redundant. The ‘green movement’ can make better use of its time; we’re going to have to do a hell of a lot more than slightly reduce the amount of poisons we pour into the environment if we’re to ensure the wellbeing of our grandchildren on a planet that will have to wipe them off its face for the sake of its own survival.

    Charles Cowling
  5. Charles Cowling

    As I understand him, Delingpole reckons that the global coolers have been infiltrated by the extreme left. It’s a conspiracy theory. I haven’t examined his evidence. If figures have been fudged a number of different interpretations would need to be weighed.

    To answer your question, Richard, green funerals have not been taken over by entryists or other species of green nuts. There’s actually not a lot to get excited about. The best green initiative anyone can undertake is to die and stop consuming. A conventional funeral has a carbon footprint a wee bit bigger than a green funeral – but it all depends on how you do the sums. Crematoria abate emissions so well now that mercury vapour is a fraction of the problem it was, and will in any case abate almost completely when the boomers have snuffed it. They are the ones with the amalgam fillings.

    Vale is quite right to recommend science. Enough of that hasn’t been done. There are studies, I gather, which show that formaldehyde is neutralised almost as soon as it seeps into the earth.

    In any case, however much you green your funeral with a locally sourced organic coffin, etc, it only takes one bastard to fly in for the funeral to wreck it.

    What does that leave? Do Hindu pyres cause deforestation? Unquestionably. The secular authorities are moving to build crematoria, but religious conservatives are reluctant to permit them.

    In a nutshell, green funerals are governed by aesthetic, romantic and pastoral ideals first, and by environmental ideals a fairly distant second.

    Charles Cowling
  6. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    Laying bait, me? Fair reply, Vale!

    Charles Cowling
  7. Charles Cowling

    Come, Richard, lay bait like Delingpole and you can hardly be surprised when someone rises to it.

    I rather enjoy his writing when he is not being too silly, but he is, to my mind, lightweight. Certainly not a trustworthy source on climate matters any more than, say, Jeremy Hunt is on News International.

    There are always dark, illiberal forces at play in Delingpole’s world that he fearlessly takes on, exposes, attacks, but I think they are mostly shadows. These forces hardly challenge the established order (though of course it is helpful to make people feel under threat), the rich grow richer, inequalities remain and even increase, social mobility decreases.

    Darn right I’m suspicious of big business, but it goes far wider than that. I have rooted distrust of all the thrones, powers and dominions – secular and religious -who would make decisions that affect my life. I think it is the only sane position to take. 

    I have no idea, by the way, what the answers to your questions are. I suspect you need a scientist – but if Delingpole is right and they are all conspiring against us, could you find one you trust? 

    Charles Cowling
  8. Charles Cowling
    Richard Rawlinson

    HI Vale, why does it not surprise me you have little empathy with a small state libertarian who doesn’t blame everything on big business and finds some PC trends to be hogwash?

    But Delingpole and the Warmergate debate aside, can you comment on whether or not the funeral industry’s effects on the environment are as significant as some claim, or if this is exaggerated?

    Are we being poisoned by mercury particles from crematoria smokestacks? Are Hindu pyres in India resulting in deforestation? Will a switch from formaldehyde to glutaraldehyde in the embalming process help clean up our rivers? Is technology the answer to sustainability issues or should our consumption be more regulated – which impacts on the economy?

    Charles Cowling
  9. Charles Cowling

    Delingpole. Good grief.

    Charles Cowling

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