Live Green, Die Green

     The media have been all over stories of eccentric families’ toilet paperless lifestyles and their green weddings, but now CNN has pushed the peripheries of ecological awareness to the end of life by making the case for a green funeral.


     “Going green as their final gift to the Earth” was the subject of the May 14 “American Morning.”


     “It’s very peaceful,” correspondent Greg Hunter said. “There’s a growing interest in the scaled-down version of a traditional funeral which costs on average of more than $6,000, but cost is not the only reason people are choosing to go green.”


     For roughly $2,275, Memorial Ecosystems, Inc. of Westminster, S.C. will give the bereaved a green burial for their loved one at the 76-acre Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina. Kimberly Campbell, who helps manage and run Ramsey Creek, told the Business & Media Institute that the cost breaks down as follows - $1,950 for the plot, $300 for the opening and closing of the casket and $25 for the stone (engraving not included).


     While the savings adds to the alternative's attraction, Hunter mentioned there are only a “half dozen” of the “green” burial grounds in the United States – not exactly the most convenient option for most people, especially when embalming isn’t included in the process.


     The minimum standard required for burial in the Ramsey Creek site allows for no embalming fluids, a biodegradable casket (but no endangered tropical woods) and no concrete vault. However, the Campbells admit it is not “practical or ecologically important” to remove all dental fillings or artificial heart valves, hips, knees, etc.


     After interviewing Ramsey Creek’s owners, Hunter included former Los Angeles Times Syndicate environmental columnist Mark Harris, who strongly advocated green burial in his book, “Grave Matters.” He made the case in his book that with this greener burial, people are returning to their old-fashioned values of “thrift and simplicity.”


      “This is not something that is new or is bizarre, but I think it is something that speaks to people because they’re familiar with the concept,” Harris said in the CNN report.


     But Harris went further in a March 5 interview with the California Literary Review, saying a modern traditional burial is bad for the environment.


     “Above ground, the local cemetery may look bucolic and natural; below the surface, it serves as a de facto landfill of hazardous wastes and non-biodegradable materials,” said Harris.


      Harris has also favored green burial over another burial alternative, cremation. In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, Harris told Terry Gross that the cremation process, albeit less intrusive to the environment than the standard burial, requires electricity and natural gas to be used and also releases mercury into the atmosphere. 


      “If you’re driving someone’s ashes a thousand miles from home to scatter them in pristine forestland or air-freighting a body to a distant natural cemetery for shrouded interment there – as has happened – you’re certainly negating much, if not, all, of the benefit to the environment you gained from choosing an earth-friendly funeral,” said Harris.

     In recent months, CNN’s “American Morning” has been on a green crusade. On April 12, Ali Velshi supported mandatory government regulation of carbon dioxide.