Conscious of his post death carbon footprint, Desmond Tutu decided to “aquamate,” rather than cremate, and asked that his body be dissolved in mineral water
Welcome to the newest feature from Climate and Capital Media –– our effort to highlight emerging ideas for reinventing our world in the age of climate change and environmental crisis.
Here we will be featuring new ideas for tackling the climate crisis that, perhaps at first blush, seem a little … out there. These are technologies, approaches and systems that are not just wild in the sense of being new and bold, but also in the sense that they could help us make the human world more compatible with the natural one.
To be clear, Wild Ideas are not meant to distract from the critically important job of breaking our addiction to fossil fuels and moving to clean energy –– that is simply non-negotiable in the battle against climate change. This features ideas –– big and small –– that could turn into pieces of the global puzzle –– reinventing our society for a future that is better and sustainable. If some of these ideas don’t pan out, we will still celebrate the creative effort that it took to try them out. If they turn out to be big, we will follow up with more information about how they work and what they accomplish.
In our first segment, we begin at the end of life.
Desmond Tutu leads the way, even in death
The anti-apartheid leader and archbishop’s burial choice shines a light on a climate-friendly way to go … to your next destination.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was an inspirational leader –– whether fighting for the end to South Africa’s apartheid system, advocating for religious and sexual orientation tolerance or campaigning for divestment from fossil fuels. As it turns out, this remarkable Nobel Peace Prize winner, who died in late December at the age of 90, was a global leader even in death by arranging ahead of his death an environmentally friendly way to dispose of his body.
“One cremation uses as much energy in the form of gas and electricity as a 500-mile car trip, and releases a staggering 400 kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
The archbishop requested not a traditional burial in a casket or even cremation but aquamation. This is a process that goes beyond reducing the impacts of burial on the environment, to greatly reducing the rather significant carbon footprint of cremation.
“One cremation uses as much energy in the form of gas and electricity as a 500-mile car trip and releases a staggering 400 kilos of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, not to mention mercury vapor and other pollutants,” according to the charity The Natural Death Centre.
Who knew that going up in a puff of smoke could be so damaging? Desmond Tutu, for one.
See our related story about Desmond Tutu, fossil fuel divestment advocate.
Instead of using fire, aquamation, or alkaline hydrolysis, uses alkaline water at a high temperature to dissolve the body, except the skeleton, as it would if left in a stream or in the woods, but in hours rather than months. The remaining skeleton is ground up and placed in an urn for loved ones to keep, bury or scatter.
Aquamation has long been used for the disposal of animals and bodies donated to science, though it is not legal for regular humans everywhere. But it is gaining traction — about half of U.S. states have legalized and created regulations governing the process or are creating regulations now — along with other green options, such as mushroom burial suits and biodegradable caskets and urns.
If that makes you feel a little uneasy — or queasy — we get that. But what’s worse is our earth is on fire due to climate change. In death, at least, we can choose to have a small carbon footprint.