Louisa Pearson: In Tibet, leaving your body as an offering to birds of prey makes perfect sense

LOOKING down the road, I see a mini digger. “Looks like someone’s doing some excavating,” I say to Mr Green. “I wonder if they’re building something.

A haunted look appears in Mr Green’s eyes as he sighs and says, “They’re digging a grave.”

In retrospect, the fact that the digger was in the churchyard should have given me a clue, but what can I say? I thought graves were dug by men in waistcoats and neckerchiefs.

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Anyway, while others are spending Easter Sunday thinking about chocolate eggs and daffodils, I’m dwelling on death. Will I end up buried in a churchyard? Planted under a tree? Ashes scattered somewhere significant (nowhere comes to mind beyond my veg patch)? Or will it be mummification, sky burial or cryogenic freezing? Well, which is greenest?

Sky burial gets top marks, but is not currently available in Scotland. In Tibet, where the ground is rocky and timber is scarce, leaving your body as an offering to birds of prey on a mountaintop makes perfect sense. The thought of climbers coming across this scene while Munro-bagging means it’s unlikely to happen here any time soon. The obvious alternative is a ‘natural’ burial. By this we usually mean a woodland plot where the coffin is biodegradable and embalming fluids are absent. The Natural Death Centre (www.naturaldeath.org.uk) lists 19 natural burial grounds in Scotland.

Pausing to consider eco-coffins, you can opt for willow, cardboard (ideal for decorating and personalising), recycled newsprint, wool, jute or, if it’s ashes you’ll be burying, there’s the Acorn Urn, which is made from recycled paper (www.arkafunerals.co.uk). The drawback to cremation in environmental terms is that the average cremator runs for over an hour at temperatures over 1,000°C and emissions are produced (nasty ones if you have mercury fillings). It’s estimated that one cremation uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip, and releases 400kg of C02 into the atmosphere.

One future alternative might be Resomation (www.resomation.com), the brainchild of a Scottish company that uses a chemical process called alkaline hydrolysis to dissolve body tissue. It generates 35 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than cremation and uses a seventh of the energy. At present it is being used in some US states, and the Scottish Parliament has been approached about regulating it here.

Promession (www.promess.org.uk) is a Swedish invention where the body is lowered into liquid nitrogen and then turned into granules. I’m trying not to think of breakfast cereals with freeze-dried berries.

Liquid nitrogen is also the substance of choice for cryogenics, where you are rapidly deep-frozen with a view to being resuscitated in the distant future. I’m giving it low marks for vanity and the fact that centuries of refrigeration come with a very heavy energy toll.

Mummification (www.summum.org) is on offer for people and pets, while donating your body to science is an option – though it will most likely get cremated once the students have finished with you. Sky burial appeals, but all those air miles getting me to Tibet wouldn’t be the best note to end my days on. n