Cremation is popular, but is it green? Although traditional Islam and Judaism forbid cremation, most other religions accept the practice—and cremation is the fastest-growing way Americans choose to deal with their bodies after death. The Cremation Association of North America predicts 44 percent of American deaths will result in cremation by 2015. Many Americans, religious or otherwise, are under the impression cremation is a prime environmental option, because they believe it takes up less land and avoids the danger of groundwater contamination seeping from embalming chemicals in the body. But the cremation society does not promote it as a green option. Green burial advocates note the tremendous energy expended by crematoriums, the pollutants released into the atmosphere from the mercury and other metals found in tooth fillings and surgical implants, and the fact cremated bodies often are embalmed beforehand. But cremation options billed as more environmentally friendly are emerging—bio-cremation, for example. Also known as resomation or alkaline hydrolysis, bio-cremation dissolves the body in a process that involves pressure, an alkali solution, and heating at much lower temperatures than necessary in crematoria. Metals are separated from body tissues and can be disposed of properly instead of burned. It’s legal in only eight states—Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon—and some have questioned how green it really is.
Vatican dove release raises hackles of animal-rights activists. After aggressive predator birds attacked two doves released by Pope Francis and two young children, a leading animal-rights group called on the pontiff to stop what they called “outdated traditions.” The Vatican regularly releases doves as a symbol of peace.But the Jan. 26 events attracted wide attention after the scene of a seagull and a crow swooping in to attack the doves was captured by several of the photographers in St. Peter’s Square while a crowd of tens of thousands—including several thousand children—observed. Both white doves managed to escape their predators after a brief tussle, but it’s unclear what ultimately happened to them. In an open letter, the National Animal Protection Agency in Italy said because the doves are bred in captivity and lack strong survival instincts, releasing them into the wild “is like condemning them to certain death.” The statement called for the Vatican to change its policies, adding the group planned to launch a petition to gather signatures in order to ask the Vatican to halt the practice. The Vatican did not immediately respond to the call for change.