Burials

The amount of waste generated by traditional burials is totally unnecessary. Corpses are packed with embalming fluid, which is often environmentally disastrous. It also uses up tons of wood, steel, and concrete. Even cremation emits noxious gases into the atmosphere. How did this ever become the norm?

The funeral industry has done a really good job of making sure people remain unaware of the less expensive, eco-friendly options, but the Green Burial Council[1] is raising awareness of this issue. They advocate for eco-friendly, non-greenwashed burials. They provide educational materials about green burials to the public and to cemetery operators.

Funerals

Funeral services are clearly useful. They give loved ones a specific time and place to grieve. But there’s this idea which is part of culture now, that the more money you spend on disposal of the corpse, the more you cared about the real, living person. That’s stupid.

If you really care about someone, show it while they’re still alive. Treat them with kindness while they’re alive. Praise their good qualities while they’re alive. Spend time with them while they’re alive, rather than spending it staring at their headstone or their corpse thinking about all the things that were left unsaid.

Deifying The Dead

I also don’t understand the tendency to make saints out of the deceased, or at least not badmouth them. Dying doesn’t cancel out the bad things someone did while they were alive. I don’t want people to make me a saint after I die. I want them to remember the good and the bad. If somebody can go around being a dick all the time and only the good parts about them will be remembered, that’s one less reason not to be a dick.

Everyone has multiple facets, good and bad and we should continue to acknowledge both, even after they die. It’s better to remember grandma as the racist, yet still kind grandmother she was than construct an alternative idealized memory of her.

To be fair though, you also have to take into account the time when people were born. If you were born in an environment where everyone around you was a racist, unless you’re very thoughtful, you’d probably be one too. Telling yourself otherwise is just wishful thinking.

It’s the nature of progress that all generations are ashamed of their ancestors. Almost anybody born eighty years ago being judged by modern standards is going to look bad. You’re going to be in that position. I’m going to be in that position. And that’s a good thing because, for one, it indicates moral progress and two, it motivates us to do better.

Coming Full Circle

When we’re old, assuming we don’t destroy ourselves before then which seems not unlikely, then future generations will look at us and ask “Why did people my grandparents age leave us a dying planet? Didn’t they care? What did they do to help?”.

When I get old and eventually die, I want younger generations to see me as someone who did what he could to help the environment. If I choose to be packed with formaldehyde for my burial, it will be clear to my successors that I cared more about a rotting corpse than the earth.

In all likelihood, I have a long life ahead of me and won’t have to worry about burial for at least fifty years. I don’t plan on dying soon, but if I do come to an untimely death, let this serve as my end of life wish:

“I don’t want my death to harm nature. I wish to be placed directly into the earth, without a casket, at the nearest available spot. If that’s not possible, then get me a cheap, biodegradable casket. No cremation and no preservatives. There’s no reason to preserve a corpse that nobody’s going to see anyways.”

If you want to preserve nature for future generations, please make it known that you wish for a green burial. Thanks for reading.

Link(s):
1: Green Burial Council