In recent decades, most Sri Lankans have not only been living beyond their means but also dying beyond their means. During the war and even after that, funeral undertaking has overtaken most other businesses. As a result, while the richer elite indulge in extravagant funerals with several lakhs being spent on luxury coffins and other rites. Some reports say that ghostly if not ghastly gangs, working in deadly collision with drunken cemetery keepers often go there after midnight and steal the expensive coffins while leaving the bodies in the graves. Middle class families often take loans for funerals followed by semi-luxury alms-givings for relatives and friends and seldom for the poor.
In this context a worldwide movement has come up with the lively concept of green funerals, which are not only less costly but more importantly are eco-friendly. According to the movement a green burial or natural burial, ensures the burial site remains as natural as possible. Burial of the bodies is done in a bio-degradable casket, shroud, or a blanket. Embalming fluid and concrete vaults are not necessary. The green burial movement points out that the vision of nature is for our bodies to be reunited with the earth. All organisms that have lived, have died and returned to the soil, only to be recycled into new life. Constant microbial activity in the soil breaks everything down.
Nature creates no waste. All things are recycled. In keeping with a person’s personal values, a natural burial site for you, a member of the family and even pets, could promote growth of native trees, shrubs and wild flowers. This in turn brings birds and other wildlife to the area. Water is not wasted, while pesticides and herbicides are not used in attempts to control nature. Instead, a green cemetery allows nature to take its course. Planting native trees, shrubs and flowers in honour of loved ones promotes habitat restoration. The movement says that to encourage land preservation, a green cemetery grants a conservation easement for the burial site.
A green burial is a cremation alternative, and a viable alternative to traditional burial practices in most parts of the world including Sri Lanka. It is an earth-friendly option when considering burial vs cremation. Many families choose cremation because it is seen as more environmentally friendly than traditional burial. Though traditional memorial parks may require them, a green cemetery or memorial nature reserve does not. The simplicity of a green burial is in tune with nature and need not be expensive.
Until recently, interment in an environmentally-friendly burial ground was not an option. Now we can consider and encourage a natural burial, helping to preserve open spaces. Choosing a green burial now relieves loved ones of the distress that comes in having to make difficult and often costly decisions after a person dies.
The movement for green burial is coming alive in the wake of the environmental catastrophe facing Mother Earth with Pope Francis leading a worldwide mission to curb pollution which he attributes largely to the carefree recklessness of the rich and ruling elite. The soil, water and our food are being polluted by the excessive use of agro-chemicals and other factors. Air pollution due to carbon dioxide is so severe that in Colombo and the suburbs 60% of the people are known to be suffering from respiratory ailments.
Energy experts have said the use of fossil fuels must be phased out within decades and we need to develop renewable sources of energy such as solar power. Excessive heat and the rising sea levels are posing a grave threat to islands including Sri Lanka, while thousands of species of marine creatures are in danger. Not only environmental groups, but governments, religious movements and others need to get actively and effectively involved in the movement to save Mother Nature. People need to be made aware, in the media and even at religious services, that if we do not act fast, we are heading for self-destruction.