Current Enviro News: Being Environmentally Friendly in the Afterlife

April 15, 2015

I was talking with a friend about this idea not too long ago. Coffins just feel like a waste of resources. We were discussing how there are now organic burial pods that will turn your loved ones into trees.

To read more about this idea:

http://www.earthporm.com/bye-bye-coffins-these-organic-burial-pods-turn-your-loved-ones-into-trees/

This article was recently in the NY Times

A Project to Turn Corpses Into Compost

by: Catrin Einhorn

Cullowhee, N.C. — The body of the tiny 78-year-old woman, gray hair falling over stiffened shoulders, was brought to a hillside at Western Carolina University still clad in a blue hospital gown and chartreuse socks.

She was laid on a bed of wood chips, and then more were heaped atop her. If all goes as hoped, the body will turn into compost.

It is a startling next step in the natural burial movement. Even as more people opt for interment in simple shrouds or biodegradable caskets, urban cemeteries continue to fill up. For the environmentally conscious, cremation is a problematic option, as the process releases greenhouse gases.

Armed with a prestigious environmental fellowship, Katrina Spade, a 37-year-old Seattle resident with a degree in architecture, has proposed an alternative: a facility for human composting.

The idea is attracting interest from environmental advocates and scientists. The woman laid to rest in wood chips is a first step in testing how it would work.

“Composting makes people think of banana peels and coffee grounds,” Ms. Spade said.

But “our bodies have nutrients. What if we could grow new life after we’ve died?”

Scientists agree that human beings can be composted. Already countless farms across the country, including at least a third of Washington State’s dairy farms, compost the bodies of dead livestock. In some states,transportation departments compost roadkill.

“I’m absolutely sure that it can work,” said Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University who serves on the advisory board of the Urban Death Project, a nonprofit that Ms. Spade founded.

The process is surprisingly simple: Place nitrogen-rich material, like dead animals, inside a mound of carbon-rich material, like wood chips and sawdust, adding moisture or extra nitrogen and making other adjustments as needed. Microbial activity will start the pile cooking.

Bacteria release enzymes that break down tissue into component parts like amino acids, and eventually, the nitrogen-rich molecules bind with the carbon-rich ones, creating a soil-like substance.

Temperatures reach around 140 degrees, often higher, and the heat kills common pathogens. Done correctly, there should be no smell. Bones also compost, though they take longer than tissue.

Ms. Spade has designed a building for human composting that aims to marry the efficiency of this biological process with the ritual and symbolism that mourners crave. Each Urban Death facility would be centered around a three-story vault that she calls “the core.” Loved ones would carry their deceased, wrapped in a shroud, up a circular ramp to the top.

There, during a “laying in” ceremony, mourners would place the body inside the core, which could hold perhaps 30 corpses at a time. Over the next several weeks, each body would move down the core until the first stage of composting was complete. In a second stage, material would be screened, along with any remaining bones, and the compost would be cured.

Ms. Spade estimates that each body, combined with the necessary materials such as wood chips and sawdust, would yield enough compost to fill a three-foot cube.

Weeks or months later, survivors could collect some of the compost to use as they saw fit, perhaps in their garden or to plant a tree. Ms. Spade foresees the rest going to nearby parks or conservation lands. Each human composting would cost about $2,500, a fraction of the price of conventional burial, Ms. Spade estimates.

She hopes to build the first facility in Seattle, then to develop a template that other communities can use for locally designed facilities. “Like libraries,” she said.

Beyond the environmental benefits to composting humans, she believes there is a spiritual one: connecting death to the cycle of nature will help people face their own mortality and bring comfort to the bereaved.

Conventional burial is anything but natural. Cadavers are preserved with embalming fluid containing formaldehyde, a carcinogen. They are buried in caskets made of metal or wood, and placed inside a concrete or metal burial vault.

These traditions, though commonplace in the United States, are relatively new, beginning in the Civil War when northern families needed to get their dead men home from the South.

“American ingenuity,” said Gary Laderman, a professor at Emory University who specializes in the history of death in America. “Embalming stuck.”

Many Americans find the very idea of composting human bodies repulsive, a contravention of cultural and religious norms. One critic on the Urban Death website commented: “This MUST be a joke. If not, there’s only one word which could possibly describe your activities: SICK.”

Another commenter wrote: “A pile of bodies is usually called a ‘mass grave.’ Please stop what you’re doing.”

Then there are legal barriers. State laws vary: In the last few years, several have legalized alkaline hydrolysis, sometimes known as water cremation, in which bodies are dissolved in a heated mix of water and lye. But in many other states, bodies must be buried, entombed, cremated or donated to science.

Questions remain about how human compost should be used. Certain pathogens, like the prions related to mad cow disease, can survive composting, and livestock that have died from certain diseases are banned from composting.

Some experts recommend that livestock compost not be spread on fields where fruits and vegetables are grown for human consumption.

As with cremation, heavy metal contamination could be a concern; perhaps dental fillings would have to be removed from bodies. “There are many discussions to be had with the medical community and the health department,” Ms. Carpenter-Boggs said.

For livestock, manure would be ideal, she said, but that was not appropriate for humans. Instead, she recommended alfalfa hay or pellets.

Ms. Spade beamed. “Who doesn’t want to be laid to rest in alfalfa?” she asked.

-end of part of the article-

to read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/science/a-project-to-turn-corpses-into-compost.html?ref=science&_r=0

I understand that this is a sensitive issue and that a traditional burial can help loved ones grieve, but I also think the idea of enduring life resulting from the body is beautiful.

Not hoping to have to think about this again anytime soon, but I could see myself utilizing one of these methods.


Russia and Canada: Deforestation Kings

April 13, 2015

While many people moan and groan about the tropical countries cutting down the rain forests and hurting the environment with deforestation, Brazil and other tropical countries aren’t the biggest criminals when it comes to killing off forests. Global Forest Watch has recently partnered with other interest groups to measure the changes in tree cover over the years. They found Russia and Canada account for 34% of global tree loss. Is this because we value their forest less than the exotic, diverse rain-forests? Or is it just because these two countries are some of the biggest in the work that it only makes sense they cut down more tree? Either way, one problem is clear, all countries, not just tropical ones, should consider how many trees they cut down.

source 


Polar Bears Won’t be Satisfied by Terrestrial Foods Alone

April 1, 2015

According to scientists led by the U.S. Geological Survey has found that polar bears, due to them being forced on shore from sea ice loss, may be eating terrestrial foods (berries, birds and eggs). Though some polar bears have been seen to eat terrestrial foods, there is no evidence that the behavior is widespread. Where it has been documented, their condition and survival rates have declined. In some of the terrestrial habitats that polar bears occupy, those areas were already occupied by grizzly bears. The grizzly bears in these areas are of smaller sizes for their species and are potential competitors. Dr. Karyn Rode says that “grizzly bears and polar bears are likely to increasingly interact and potentially compete for terrestrial resources.”


A Struggle to Save the Scaly Pangolin

April 1, 2015

Displaying

By Erica Goode   March 30, 2015

“PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A peculiar creature that looks like a four-legged artichoke is thought to be the planet’s most frequently trafficked mammal.” [The journalist side of me appreciates that lead into the story]

Pangolins are insectivores with a tongue longer than its body and a tail so powerful it can hang upside down from tree branches.

Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in parts of China, where it is believed to nourish the kidneys. Pangolin scales, made of keratin, like human fingernails, are used in traditional medicine to treat skin diseases and other ailments. Trade in the animal has a long history: In 1820, King George III of England was presented with a suit of armor made from pangolin scales.

But the demand (and consequential supply) of pangolins has grown sharply in recent decades. Poaching has increased not only in Southeast Asia but also in Africa.

Customs officers seize thousands of pangolins and hundreds of pounds of pangolin scales each year, often disguised as other goods. In late January, officials in Uganda said they had seized two tons of pangolin skins packed in boxes identified as communications equipment. In France a few years ago, more than 200 pounds of pangolin scales were discovered buried in bags of dog biscuits.

Most countries, including Cambodia, have laws against hunting pangolins. But enforcement is often weak, and the incentive for local poachers in poor rural areas to catch and sell pangolins and other wildlife to middlemen for smuggling organizations is strong.

But so many have been killed that they and Chinese pangolins are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The international union considers all of the pangolin species threatened.

“The pangolin runs the risk of becoming extinct before most people have even heard of them,” Britain’s Prince William said last fall.

Peter Knights, the chief executive of WildAid, said that his and other conservation groups were mounting efforts to rescue the pangolin in advance of the 2016 meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Pangolins are listed under the convention’s Appendix II as animals that are not yet threatened with extinction but may become so. WildAid and other organizations argue that pangolins should be moved to Appendix I, which prohibits all commercial trade.

“The pangolin’s odd appearance has not helped its cause, Ms. Olsson said.” [Ouch haha that’s not very nice]

“That’s one of the problems with species like pangolins,” she said. “It’s not huge and not very charismatic. It’s small and weird and just disappearing.” [wow, even nicer]

A Pokemon character, Sandslash, was loosely based on the pangolin, thought to be the only scaled mammal.

Once thought to be a relative of the anteater, the sloth and the armadillo, the pangolin belongs to the taxonomic order Pholidota, and genetic studies suggest it is more closely related to raccoons and giant pandas than to animals it resembles.

Burrowing in trees or tunnels, pangolins have weak eyes but keen noses to smell insects and powerful claws to dig them up. Their long tongues are sticky, able to scoop up hundreds of ants at once, their ears closing up to prevent the ants from swarming inside. Like skunks, pangolins can emit a foul odor when threatened.

The animals are easily stressed in captivity and do not do well with artificial food. But with the proper mash of ants and termites, they can thrive.

read more/see video at:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/31/science/a-struggle-to-save-the-scaly-pangolin.html?ref=science&_r=0

[I thought this article related well to what we have been reading about in Placing Animals. The ethical debate regarding human use of animals is really interesting. Where do we draw the line and what are effective ways to actually enforce restrictions?]


Current Envionmental Article

April 1, 2015

Wearable Electronics’ Newest Wrinkle: Power-Producing Cloth

Self-powered electronics are the future of technology and scientists are one step closer to reaching this goals. The basic principle is using the static electricity produced by the friction of our everyday movements to power electronic devices such as phones or watches. The most latest example of this technology takes the form of a flexible cloth that captures the energy produced and can store it for later use. The future plans for this cloth include making clothing and accessories using it as well as any ways to commercialize the product.


Little bits of plastic are being found everywhere

March 25, 2015

Surprise Finding Heightens Concern Over Tiny Bits Of Plastic Polluting Our Oceans

by: Lynne Peeples

read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/23/plastic-ocean-pollution-fish-health_n_6923872.html

Scientists are finding little bits of plastic in a lot of places lately: ice cores, deep sea sediments, coral reefs, crab gills, the digestive system of mussels, and even German beer. Now, new research suggests, scientists need not to be searching for the actual man-made material to discover it.

A team’s accidental finding of plastic in the skin of both farmed and wild fish adds to already growing environmental and public health concerns about the plastic particles pervading our oceans and waterways.

Over time, waves and sunlight break down large chunks of plastic, leaving the remnants of discarded packaging, bottles and bags nearly invisible to the naked eye. These so-called microplastics, particles under a millimeter across, may pose big troubles, experts warn.

MICROBEADS

“It fragments quickly. We fear that as plastic continues to break down, it becomes even more susceptible to being eaten or even embedded into their scales. Plastic has been found in creatures ranging from worms and barnacles to seabirds and marine mammals. Through bioaccumulation, Synthetic chemicals can then travel up the food chain, and potentially on to our dinner plates.

An estimated 5 to 13 million metric tons of plastic litter enters the world’s oceans every year. Since plastic does not biodegrade, it photodegrades, the plastic is accumulating each year.

microplastic

A blue rectangular piece of microplastic is visible on a researcher’s finger. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Decades of convenient plastics and environmental pollution “may be coming back to haunt us in our seafood,” said Chelsea Rochman, a postdoctoral fellow in conservation research at the University of California, Davis.

At the forefront of the current debate over microplastics are microbeads, the minuscule balls of petrochemical-derived plastic added to hundreds of cosmetics, sunscreens, toothpastes and exfoliating body washes. When they’re rinsed down the drain, microbeads can flow through sewer systems — where they are often too tiny to be efficiently filtered by wastewater treatment plants — and into lakes, rivers and, ultimately, oceans. They arrive in the environment already fish-food size, even before the waves and sun begin breaking them down.Microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes drove Illinois to pass the first ban on microbeads last summer. .

“There are a whole host of questions that could come out of this,” said Law. “We’re starting to ask more questions about our drinking water.” The most pressing need right now is to improve waste management systems so that they can properly capture the plastic.

“In the long-term, we all need to think about how we’re using plastic,” Law said. “Individual actions can add up to have a positive impact.”


Massive marine sanctuary created in the Pacific

March 24, 2015

Pitcairn island is a small island in the Pacific Ocean whose population is said to be descendants of Fletcher Christian, a sailor that led a mutiny against their captain on the Royal Navy ship Bounty. They settles on Pitcairn island and burned Bounty to avoid detection. Now the waters surrounding the island where the ship supposedly went down in flames just became the world’s largest contiguous ocean reserve. The reserve is roughly 322,138-square-miles and home to at least 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish.

http://www.enn.com/ecosystems/article/48370


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