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Americans are terrible at talking to death, and it’s harming the environment

Americans are terrible at talking to death, and it’s harming the environment

How often do your thoughts turn to your own death? Most people answer “rarely, or never” when it comes to thinking about their own death. In the United States, death denial is commonplace. In Western countries, people don’t actually die, but “pass on” and “slip away”. Especially our own death is something we try not to think about until we are forced to.

This is a perfectly normal behavior. This is a normal human behavior. However, it can be frightening to think about death. With medical advancements and longer lives, it is easier to avoid thinking about death. Death denial comes with many disadvantages. Avoidance can make anxiety worse, not better. We also risk leaving behind grieving family members who aren’t clear about our final wishes. Death denial isn’t just bad for individuals. There are plenty of evidence to support its harmful effects on the environment as well.

Traditional funeral options are not eco-friendly. Some estimates in the United States suggest that cremation produces approximately 360,000 metric tonnes of CO2 annually. According to the Green Burial Council a furnace heated at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 hours produces approximately the same emissions as driving 500 kilometres in a car. Burials present their own problems. Caskets or vaults consume a lot of natural resource. For example, vaults require the construction of thousands of tons of concrete and steel. Groundwater around cemeteries can be contaminated by embalming fluid, which contains carcinogenic chemicals.

The funeral industry is one the few that escapes scrutiny in a world where large corporations are frequently held accountable for their green practices. This situation is made possible by a culture that denies death. Who wants to build their activism around a topic that most people avoid? In a society where death has been deemed “morbid”, Greta Thunberg, a prominent figure in deathcare, rarely ventures into the dark world of deathcare. Instagram’s eco influencers seem to be more comfortable eating avocado on toast than discussing embalming fluid.

It wasn’t always like this. Americans lived close to the dying and dead in the early 1900s. The practice of holding vigils at the bedside of a dying relative was very common. People died in their homes, leaving their family to prepare the body. Historians believe that this changed when the end-of-life care was moved to hospitals and funeral homes began taking care of dead bodies. Death became less visible. Today, people see an open casket because the corpse has been altered to hide the effects of death. This evolution from death close to death to death being hidden and covered up has led to a tendency towards death avoidance that is quite unusual when compared to other cultures.

Change is on the horizon, which is good news for our planet. Several environmentally-friendly deathcare options are springing up across the United States. The green deathcare industry is growing. It includes water burials, natural organic reduction and “human composting”. We need to be more open and honest about death and death in order to speed up legal, eco-friendly options for people.

In practice, this allows for myths and assumptions to flourish about funeral care. Over half of Americans choose cremation every year. This is partly due to the false belief that it is good for the earth. Caitlin Duntry, a prominent mortician who is also a “death positive” advocate, reported instances where bereaved families were told that embalming was a legal requirement. Embalming or burial in a vault is not required by any state. If you’ve spent your whole life trying reduce your carbon footprint, understanding the legalities can help make your final days greener.

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People often say they want to be a tree when they die. It’s easy to forget that traditional deathcare isn’t always as simple as we think. Traditional burial allows bodies to mix with the earth, but ash from cremated remains does not enrich soil. You can learn more about other funeral options by taking the time to explore them. Green burial is generally defined as an unmutilated body that has been placed in a shroud, or biodegradable coffin and then lowered into the ground. This allows the body’s natural decomposition. There are no state laws that prohibit green burial. Many cemeteries offer this service. Human composting is a process that converts corpses into soil using a combination microbes, oxygen and organic matter. It is legal in Colorado and Washington. Bills are being considered in many other states.

Green deathcare does have its drawbacks. Price is a problem at the moment. Direct cremation, which is free of viewing or visitation, can be affordable for those who are the most vulnerable in society. It costs just $1,000. Human composting costs between $7,000 and $10,000. There are also religious concerns about human remains. Catholic groups opposed Washington’s legalization for human composting, arguing that composting did not show enough respect for the dead body.

Green deathcare will only get more affordable and more widespread (for those who wish it) if we can talk about death. Although it is uncomfortable to imagine our bodies turning into ash and soil, it is possible. Even though it is uncomfortable to think about your own death, knowing as much as you can about a topic is always an advantage.

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