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Death warmed up

27 October 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

Cremation is becoming more popular, that is a problem

The planet’s leaders are due to gather in Scotland to discuss their progress on combating global warming. The short version is that they are failing.

Our reliance on burning fossil fuels has not been addressed and so CO2 emissions continue to rise.

Humans are about to reach the 8 billion mark which even with long and productive lives means that there are many who die each year. The UN expected about 60 million to die in 2020, from predictions before the pandemic with that number rising to 70 million by 2030.

Burial would have been the way most were laid to rest, but as a result of more living in cities and space for cemeteries filling up and the cost to build new burial grounds making burial an increasingly expensive option.

Cremation has become the preferred alternative which drastically reduced the cost and the need for space.

Unfortunately, the energy required and emissions from cremating the dead is beginning to be a new issue.

Add to that the UN report that air pollution is a significant contributor to global death at 24% being related to air and chemical pollution with a call to make a healthy environment a human right.

No space and you can’t cremate

It looks like there might not be an easy answer, yet humans have actually always had the answer but for social and cultural reasons moved away from using. Natural decomposition.

Rather than scattering ashes or the need to leave a specific piece of ground untouched while a person slowly decomposes in a coffin often after having had a process to effectively stop decomposing by embalming.

The alternative is to place the body in a decomposition chamber to speed up the natural decomposition using microbes and organic matter to start and sustain the process and to provide sufficient oxygen to allow a body to decompose in about 30 days according to the operators of Recompose.

Once complete the resulting soil is allowed to cure outdoors before being sent to arranged sites to be used as compost.

It does not produce a significant amount per person, about a cubic meter, but at scale, it could result in a valuable source to sustain the green lungs of a city.

It is not cheap, $5500 in 2021 but then it is very new with only 40 people have chosen to use the process. With time and use, the cost for each burial will come down. It is about 5 times the cost of cremation but once the costs come down the other benefits are a lower energy cost, less volatile elements, and the chance to recover and recycle non-organic body parts.

Better places to remember the dead

Cemeteries can be wonderful places to visit and pay your respects to the dead, but they need quite a bit of space and often are underutilized. A cemetery in Spain that has memorial walls for storing ashes and caskets got creative and placed solar panels above the walls.

South Korea has built a series of towers called the House of Memory and Eternity or HOME which looks like libraries with cafes at the base. Each book contains the remains and a brief history of the person that is entombed there.

Creating memorials that fit into a living city may become a more common option. Visiting a park that uses decomposed remains to maintain the soil makes sense once we remember that we simply dust and to dust we do indeed return.

But for those who may have to commute or the ongoing cost and risk of maintaining a physical space, it may become more popular for memorials to be hosted online. Facebook is arguably the largest version of this and that was back in 2016 when Business Unusual first looked at how death was being disrupted. It may become part of what governments provide for all citizens to avoid a company going out of business.

The process is still new and will still need approvals given that it is not considered a burial but rather a bio cremation.

It is also not the only “cremation” alternative that does not use cremation.

Aquamation or Alkaline hydrolysis uses water potassium hydroxide to dissolve the body. The process can be quite quick taking as little as a few hours to reduce the body to a whitish powder which can be used for fertilizing soil. It does use more water though. It is still a more expensive option in part because they are still less popular and the chambers are pricey too.

The future looks to be a mix of natural burials and the new versions of cremation with hopefully flame cremation becoming the least common.

There are other more novel options.

There are other more novel options.

For those that would like to be remembered as a tree or even to be part of a reef, your remains can be added to artificial reefs which are laid to replace the areas that have been lost or damaged.

For the rich and sentimental your cremated remains can be compressed into a diamond.

One still experimental option suggests freeze-drying the body and then crumbling it.

Humans concentrate toxins in the environment as we are at the top of the food chain and so we could add to pollution if cremated. A plan to develop a strain of mushrooms that would be shown into a burial garment would decompose the body but also look to convert the toxins into inert versions.

To save on space some cemeteries have taken to inserting coffins vertically to fit more into the same space and there are a growing number of options for more compostable coffins that will accelerate the decomposition process, unlike a varnish wood casket which would take much longer.

If money is no problem, you can hitch a ride to be launched into space. It will no doubt become more popular but is not a very good option.

Finally, there should be more discussion about how best to say farewell to a loved one. Covid and made it very difficult if not impossible to pay your respects, but perhaps it also did a pause on the ever more elaborate and big funerals that would be a burden to the person that would need to save for it during their life or for the family if the provision was not sufficient.

I don’t know what the correct option should be, but I think opportunities to remember those we have lost many times after they are gone is better than once for a very costly event.

This article first appeared on 702 : Death warmed up

27 October 2021 7:15 PM
Digital technology

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