An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of May 22, 2016
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining
Chichén Itzá Ruin, Yucatán, Mexico

DYING GREEN

Eric in New York sent a link to an article entitled "A different way to die: the story of a natural burial," freely online at the Vox Energy & Environment website

The article makes some interesting points.

For instance, when about half of all Americans die, their bodies are drained of blood and injected with formaldehyde, methanol and other solvents meant to slow the decay process. The body is placed in a wooden or metal casket, lowered into a plastic-lined concrete vault, and covered up. Each year in the US this process consumes around 30 million board feet of wood, 1.6 million tons of concrete, 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid, and 90,000 tons of steel. The operation also converts lots of land to lawn that must be maintained decade after decade with mowing and chemical use.

Cremation takes fewer resources, but even crematoriums with filters or scrubbers in their chimneys inject soot, carbon dioxide, and trace metals like mercury into the air. A typical cremation uses about 28 gallons of fuel and injects some 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With about a million cremations annually in the United States, that amounts to approximately 270,000 tons of global-warming-causing carbon dioxide each year.

One reason it's hard for people to simplify their burial practices is that in the US the death care industry is big business, bringing in about $20 billion dollars each year. The industry is increasingly monopolized by a single company, Service Corporation International, whose marketing practices are slick, and their sales often take place when families are disoriented and vulnerable.

In the US, it's possible to be buried without the embalming fluid, casket, vault and the rest, but it's hard. It's especially hard to find a cemetery willing to accept a body not participating in the usual burial plans. Also, a death certificate has to be delivered to the medical examiner and a permit is needed to transport the body.

I don't like thinking that my last impact on Earth might be meekly going along with somebody's business plan involving such resource waste and pollution as described above.

Once a fellow in India explained to me about the practice of a certain sect there of exposing corpses to vultures. "It's a final act of generosity the dead person performs for us all," the man told me, and I've always thought that that was a good attitude.

I'm not particularly into vultures, but I do feel good about visualizing the nutrients and minerals that have been borrowed by my body freely flowing back into the ecosystem when I no longer need them.

There are lots of ways this can happen. One needs to think outside the box, not let yourself lose control of your own life, or else have friends you can count on, who'll help you dispose of your body the way you want. Even with that, you'll need some luck, because the system strongly favors the industry's funeral-home burial packages.

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