ECOLOGICAL BURIALS, which refer to sea burials, tree burials or other burials that do not occupy a special plot of land, accounted for 44 percent of the total burials in Beijing last year. Beijing News commented on Sunday:
The annual Tomb-Sweeping Day, which fell on Thursday this year, provided a good opportunity to assess the effects of the ecological burial trend in the capital that has gathered pace over the past 20 years.
In contrast with Beijing, ecological burials accounted for less than 1 percent in Wuhan in Central China's Hubei province.
The difference stems from the two cities' different policies. The Beijing government awards families that choose ecological burials for their deceased 5,000 yuan ($793) each, and offers them relevant services and facilities for free. Also, the authorities pay special attention to raise people's awareness of the environmental benefits of ecological burials.
The Wuhan government, on the other hand, just reminds people that ecological burials are an available option free of charge.
Although it is hard to change the traditional custom of burying the dead in a fixed tomb, Beijing's experience shows what a huge difference long-term efforts to raise awareness, and thoughtful services and economic incentives can make to people's perceptions and behavior.
If 44 percent of the burials in China can be conducted in an environmentally friendly manner, a lot of land would be saved. Local governments should learn from Beijing's experience, and demonstrate sufficient patience in promoting ecological burials.
The ecological and environmental gains will dwarf the subsidies the government pays in the long run. More important, it is an effective way of raising the people's environmental awareness.