To the English, a grave is like their second home (or castle). Dead Londoners do not want to share graves with the previously dead, even though London is running out of space for the dead. (Why has cremation not caught on as a perfectly private and hygienic option in the thoroughly modern British capital?)
"A lot of people say, 'I'm not putting my dad in a secondhand grave,' " said Gary Burks, superintendent and registrar of the City of London Cemetery, final resting place of close to 1 million Londoners. "You have to deal with that mind-set."
The problem is a very British one. Many other European countries regularly reuse old graves after a couple of decades. Britain does not, as a result of Victorian hygiene obsession, piecemeal regulation and national tradition. For many, an Englishman's tomb, like his home, is his castle.
That view is also common in the United States, which like Britain tends to regard graves as eternal and not to be disturbed - although the United States has a lot more space, so the burial crisis is less acute.
In much of Britain, reusing old graves remains illegal, but the City of London cemetery is exploiting a legal loophole that allows graves in the capital with remaining space in them to be reclaimed after 75 years.
Mr. Burks points to a handsome marble obelisk carrying the details of the recently departed man buried underneath. The name of a Victorian Londoner interred in the same plot is inscribed on the other side. The monument has simply been turned around for its new user - whose family, Mr. Burks says, got a fancy stone monument for much less than the market price by agreeing to share.
On to animals. Not the scary vampires and spiders of Halloween but the cute cuddly ones frolicking in and around our homes. A report in the New Scientist rates household pets for the relative size of their carbon foot prints. Owning a mid to large size dog is apparently as eco-unfriendly as owning an SUV. Not surprisingly, the smaller and self cleaning average cat leaves a paw print that is slightly smaller than that of a Volkswagen Golf. Both are hazardous to wild life and can spread infections.
SHOULD owning a great dane make you as much of an eco-outcast as an SUV driver? Yes it should, say Robert and Brenda Vale, two architects who specialise in sustainable living at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. In their new book, Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living, they compare the ecological footprints of a menagerie of popular pets with those of various other lifestyle choices - and the critters do not fare well.
As well as guzzling resources, cats and dogs devastate wildlife populations, spread disease and add to pollution. It is time to take eco-stock of our pets.
To measure the ecological paw, claw and fin-prints of the family pet, the Vales analysed the ingredients of common brands of pet food. They calculated, for example, that a medium-sized dog would consume 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily in its recommended 300-gram portion of dried dog food. At its pre-dried weight, that equates to 450 grams of fresh meat and 260 grams of cereal. That means that over the course of a year, Fido wolfs down about 164 kilograms of meat and 95 kilograms of cereals.
It takes 43.3 square metres of land to generate 1 kilogram of chicken per year - far more for beef and lamb - and 13.4 square metres to generate a kilogram of cereals. So that gives him a footprint of 0.84 hectares. For a big dog such as a German shepherd, the figure is 1.1 hectares.
Meanwhile, an SUV - the Vales used a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser in their comparison - driven a modest 10,000 kilometres a year, uses 55.1 gigajoules, which includes the energy required both to fuel and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser's eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares - less than half that of a medium-sized dog.
The Vales are not alone in reaching this conclusion. When New Scientistasked John Barrett at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, UK, to calculate eco-pawprints based on his own data, his figures tallied almost exactly. "Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance, mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat," he says.
Then there are all the other animals we own. Doing similar calculations for a variety of pets and their foods, the Vales found that cats have an eco-footprint of about 0.15 hectares (slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf), hamsters come in at 0.014 hectares apiece (buy two, and you might as well have bought a plasma TV) and canaries half that. Even a goldfish requires 0.00034 hectares (3.4 square metres) of land to sustain it, giving it an ecological fin-print equal to two cellphones.
This kind of analysis appeals to David Mackay, a physicist at the University of Cambridge and the UK government's new energy adviser. He believes we should put as much thought into choosing a pet as we do into buying a car. "If a lifestyle choice uses more than 1 per cent of your energy footprint, then it is worthwhile reflecting on that choice and seeing what you can do about it," he says. "Pets definitely deserve attention: by my estimates, the energy footprint of a cat is about 2 per cent of the average British person's energy footprint - and it's bigger for most dogs."