I spend more time than I probably should wondering when the luxury condo trend will finally come for the dead. Real estate is expensive, and there's lots of valuable land in urban areas that could be used for yet-another fancy steel-and-glass skyscraper used to hide foreign money—if it wasn't for the cemeteries that currently take up all that space. I even have a half-finished short story in a notebook somewhere riffing on the classic Stephen King scenario of towns built on Native American burial grounds, except it's just luxury condos built up on the corpses of, well, everyone.
But I was thinking too far ahead. Because I didn't stop to think about what happens to those graveyards now, as flooding and earthquakes and more extreme weather disturb the soil under which our loved ones have been laid to their eternal rests. As a recent article in Scientific American gruesomely details, coffins are already body-surfing through the streets of Louisiana during storms:
The caskets and their surface vaults are sealed airtight, so pressure builds inside them when a hurricane or flash flood covers them in water. Moisture weakens the vault seal, and eventually the water begins to bubble with dead air—the tell-tale sign a casket is ready to pop out of its grave, Hunter said.
“You hear the bubbles, you see the bubbles, and you know that seal is weakening because of that immense amount of pressure. And then the lid comes off,” he said.
The visual of bubbling coffins popping out of the ground is scary enough. But it turns out the solutions are tricky, too. Cemetery management is complicated—financially, and emotionally—and the combinations of angry relatives and historical and real estate regulations present a plethora of problems for climate resiliency. It's a fascinating (and terrifying) read because of all these unexpected problems. Stress levels are high, but solutions aren't so readily apparent.
Of course, the funeral industry is also responsible for contributing to climate change in their own ways. Another article on Scientific American estimates more than 30 million board feet of wood is used each year just to produce caskets. If you choose to go that route, you have to deal with embalming too, and the 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde and other toxic carcinogens that eventually seep into the soil once the bodies, errrr, yeah. Then again, you could always cremate, which still releases more than 500 pounds of carbon dioxide per corpse. Based on the average cremation rate of 38%, that's nearly 250,000 tons of CO2 every year, or the equivalent annual output of 50,000 cars.
In other words, the death industry is slowly killing us, and now the corpses are coming back out of the ground. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Even the dead cannot escape climate change [Adam Aton/Scientific American]
image via Jim Linwood/Flickr