Great myths of Funeralworld

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Posted by Richard Rawlinson

No.7 : Cremation is greener than burial.

 The writer of Ilkley Moor Bar T’at was ahead of his time. Here’s a translation of the lyrics from the Yorkshire dialect:

On Ilkley Moor without a hat

You have been courting Mary Jane

You are bound to catch your death of cold

Then we will have to bury you

Then the worms will come and eat you up

Then the ducks will come and eat up the worms

Then we will go and eat up the ducks

Then we will all have eaten you

That’s where we get our own back

This is exactly why some scientists claim cremation is less environmentally harmful than burial. Back in the day, a rotting corpse was deemed excellent manure, a benefit to the food chain. Now humankind is almost as toxic when dead as when alive. Over a long period of time, we leak our noxious substances first into the water in soil, then into small organisms, then into larger animals until, somewhere down the line, they end up in the mouths and bodies of our descendants.

A decomposing body also releases methane gas as the carbon content breaks down whereas cremation oxidises this carbon content. But surely, decomposition continues to release nutrients, too? And cremation, aside from guzzling fuel, emits poisons in the smoke from cremator chimneys. Toxins from burning plastic drapes, for example. Granted, carbon capture technology (upgraded scrubbers etc) reduces the impact. Perhaps science favours cremation over burial as clever Man, not Mother Nature, is in control.

Throughout our lives, we draw into our bodies elements from the environment and return elements to the environment. Some elements are consumed in our bodies and pass through them, and others remains with us until we die. Once we are dead we cease to borrow and start the process of returning to the environment what we have retained.

Gradual breakdown of the body when buried, or rapid breakdown by fire when cremated affects the rate and state in which elements are returned. But the same elements are released into the environment in one form or another.

The jury is still out on which is the greener.


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