Toward an Ecological Way of Death

If we are going to get serious about recycling, and about reducing our consumption of  natural resources, why not recycle ourselves?

Traditional funeral practices are ecologically unsound. Both increasingly valuable prime land and precious resources are consumed in many millions of “bites” each year through the more or less elaborate funeral and burial rituals that occur in almost every country.  Even cremation uses up fossil fuels and contributes to air pollution.

A better way would be to use our bodies to fertilize and nurture something that would be renewing and life-sustaining – like a tree.  Think of it this way.  If every currently-living human being – some 6.5 billion of us, and that’s a lot of biomass – were (in due course) to be buried under a newly planted tree as part of a vast, global reforestation effort, our rich endowment of painstakingly acquired organic and inorganic chemicals and minerals would greatly benefit the soil and the trees.  In the bargain, the money we now spend on our various funeral practices could be re-directed to something more beneficial – namely, the reforestation of our fragile planet.

Here’s how it could work.  Traditional funeral and memorial services could still be conducted as in the past, even to the point of using recyclable caskets, if deemed important.  But instead of the traditional burial or cremation ritual, our bodies could be transported in biodegradable shrouds to designated “memorial forests,” where we would be ceremoniously “planted” together with a young tree of the appropriate kind.  A small, durable memorial plaque might be placed near the tree, and the GPS coordinates would be recorded for the family and the public record.  It might even be possible to arrange for a video recording, or even live (remote) coverage of the event if the family and friends desired it.  And the fee that would be charged for the service would cover the transportation, planting, ceremonial and administrative costs, along with an “insurance” surcharge to provide for the possibility of needing to replant the tree during some “warranty period” (say 50-100 years).

Needless to say, this idea represents a radical change in our traditional burial customs, which have deep cultural and religious roots (if you’ll pardon the pun), but now is the time to begin thinking about changing these ultimately destructive practices in a way that would benefit future generations.

Category: Publications