21 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day: Face Your Death

Each day of the month of April leading up to Earth Day (April 22), I will be offering a suggestion for how we can really honor the Earth this year. This list will go beyond the usual suggestions to change your light bulbs and take shorter showers. Instead, the focus is on collective action working toward radical social change.

A genuine re-connection with nature inevitably leads to a confrontation with death … and with our own deaths.  All around us in nature, there is as much death as there is life—for life feeds on death.  And we are a part of that same cycle.  We will all of us, one day, die and feed other forms of life.

We instinctively turn away from this truth.  And we engage in myriad strategies, both individually and collectively, to distract ourselves from this reality.  Conspicuous consumption is one of the many examples of what Ernest Becker calls “immortality projects,” the ways in which we “rage against the dying of the light.”  Ironically, this consumption only hastens our deaths—both individually (obesity, drug addiction, etc.) and collectively (climate change, war over resources, etc.).

One of the ways you can honor the Earth this Earth Day is to face your own death.  You can do this by taking seriously the fact that we will some day die.  In addition to a will, it’s important to have a living will and a health care power of attorney.  If you cannot afford to consult with an attorney, you can do these yourself, but be sure to use state-specific forms, since the law of every state are different, and make sure the forms are updated.

You can also write letters to loved ones, to be delivered upon your death.You can also prepare instructions for your funeral services and the handling of your body.  Here is a guide for planning your burial.

There are more and more option for green burials today.  You may choose for your body to not be embalmed or to be embalmed with non-formaldehyde fluids.  There are biodegradable wicker coffins and pods that grow into trees which can be chosen instead of traditional caskets.  There are some places where your body can be buried in just a shroud.  There’s even an option of using your bones to help rebuild coral reefs.

Then there is the question of where you want your body buried.  You may have the option of a home burial or a burial on family property.  Green burials are increasingly common. Here’s links to the Green Burial Council, the Natural End Map, and AGreenerFuneral.org, which can help you find a green burial provider.

If you prefer something like cremation, but are concerned about the environmental costs of cremation, there are alternatives.  One such process involves freezing the body with liquid nitrogen and then vibrating it until it turns to dust.  Another process, called resomation or “bio-cremation” dissolves tissue in potassium hydroxide.  You can investigate these options to determine their cost, feasibility, and how green they really are.

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