Politics & Policy

Gaia vs. the Big Death

Environmentalists take their zealotry to new lows.

Discussing North Korea recently, the journalist Christopher Hitchens reflected darkly that, bad as things are in the Communist country, “at least you can die.” Well, it seems that Kim Jong Il and his merry band have one up on the West. For, here in the free world, even death does not guarantee you escape from the unwanted attentions of the green movement. A Scottish company, whose staff have clearly spent many a long, dark night of the soul fretting over the hazards posed by the greenhouse-gas emissions and energy consumption of funeral-parlor cremation ovens, has developed a new system that literally liquefies human bodies.

The system, which dissolves corpses in heated alkaline water and then smashes the bones up for good measure, has been successfully tested in Australia, and parent company Resomation Ltd. is trying to get the law changed in Europe, the United Kingdom, and all 50 U.S. states to expand the practice. The technique was allegedly “developed in response to the public’s increasing environmental concerns.” I must confess that the mercury content of the burning corpse has never been at the top of the bereaved’s list of concerns at any funeral I have attended, but perhaps I am underestimating the comfort that knowing your late loved one is in for three hours of chemical dissolution — and some good mechanical bone-cracking to boot — can bring to the disconsolate, especially if the procedure is undertaken in the name of environmental purity. Come on Gaia, let’s stick one to Big Death!

Florida will be the first U.S. state fully to enjoy widespread employment of the process, after an Ohio state court deprived Buckeyes of the honor on the grounds that it violated state law. Still, Ohioans managed to dispose of 19 bodies in this manner before the injunction took force. Once dissolved, the remains are so clean that they can be poured into the municipal water system, and resomation inventor Sandy Sullivan assures his critics that the liquefied body tissue poses no environmental risk. Residents of Florida will no doubt take comfort in that the next time they switch on their taps for a cooling glass of water.

The green “solutions” do not end there. Other proposals include freeze-drying the body with liquid nitrogen and then vibrating it until it shatters into fragments, which are passed through filters that separate the remains into different out-trays, a form of afterlife garbage disposal that sounds as if it had come from the more surreal pages of the Onion. The key “advantage” of the procedure, developed by Swedish creator Susanne Wiigh-Masak, is that the body can then be poured into a shallow grave and become soil. In order to test the efficacy of the process, developers fitted a pig with an artificial metal hip, before killing it and pushing it through the contraption. Thus she proved her “organic” credentials.

These, along with the fad of “natural burial” — in which coffins, embalming fluid, and all the salutary advances of the past thousand years are rejected in favor of shallow graves and what effectively amounts to composting — are part of an ongoing and regressive attempt to impose a narrow conception of “sustainability” on even our most private moments. Currently, such systems are voluntary, and families remain free to choose how they dispose of their dead. But if the history of the green movement is anything to go by, such choice will not last long, especially when reducing carbon emissions is the motivating factor. In Agamemnon, the father of tragedy, Aeschylus, noted that “death is better, a milder fate than tyranny.” If he could have seen where things were going, he might not have drawn such a clear distinction.

Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial intern at National Review.


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