Economic growth as if it can go on forever on a finite planet

You’ve got to be kidding.

The obsession with money seems to be so pervasive that it has sidelined important conversations about more pressing aspects of our lives such as the ecology.

The nightly news has a segment devoted to finance. Radio current affairs program often finish with a report on the market, meaning the share market. Newspapers also dedicate several pages to money and investment. There are magazines devoted to money and investment. ABC RN has a program titled The Economist and another titled The Money.

It’s not an if or but, it’s a fact of life that we are utterly dependent on nature and ecological transactions – if we want to use a money type description. These are the exchanges that take place every second of the day, enabling all other transactions to occur. The money cycle is a bit player when compared to the carbon cycle, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle and so on. Without each of them, there’d be nothing else, literally. And yet these are taken for granted. Money is given a disproportionate amount of time and attention. Why would anyone dream of questioning this human constructed arrangement – artificial and concocted though it may be.

Yet the domination of financial reporting elevates it to be front and centre, when it should take a back seat.  Money has moved from being of service to us, to being the driver of much of our lives.

When money is traded it supposedly represents an exchange of goods and services and it does just that for many of us.  But is has also become an end in itself, being traded with other currencies and hijacked by those who launder it through gambling outlets or illicite activities connected with illegal social behaviour.

Money has not only become an essential part of modern society,  it has been given so much status that it obscures our worldview, such that nature – the ecology – have to be downgraded.  Should it not be the other way around?  How would we reapportion our media broadcast time if we allocated / applied equal opportunity principles to the ecology.  Nothing we do is done externally of mother earth.  We live on a finite planet, we breath her air, we drink her water, we eat her food, we rely on her to reabsorb our leftovers – be they peelings from preparing veg and fruit preparing for a meal, to tail pipe emissions from vehicle exhausts, to the rubble from demolished buildings, to the contents of our three bins kerbside collections, the sewage from toilet flushing, the carbon and other gases from coal fired power stations, the list goes on.

This is a finite planetary system where there is no away – we all live downstream.  The cycles of nature apply whether or not to acknowledge them. And the consequences of our chosen ways of living and social organization need to be factored into all the transactions being made, ecological, social and financial.

There is no capacity to opt out.  This being the case it would seem useful to reframe many of our ways of viewing human actions, such that they are discussed within an ecological context first, then a social context, then a financial context.   This would more accurately reflect the reality of our lives, as earthlings, as mammals, as fauna.  We could re apportion our media time to reflect this.

Money and finance would take their rightful place at the back of the queue, as passengers, not drivers, as lubricants, not as cogs and wheels.

We would report on ourselves less and on non-human beings (other species) much more.

We can’t eat money.  We can eat carrots, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, apples, you name them, but they get little attention by comparison to money.

We would have a Chief Ecological Officer as well as a Chief Health Officer – surely ecological health comes before human health.  Without a healthy functioning ecology, not much else matters.  This has been clearly demonstrated by recent programs i.e. Australia Story, highlighting the benefits of regenerative farming methods.  Soil health, precedes plant health, precedes animal health, and is essential for human health. (Also ref: Soil, by Matthew Evans)  

First things first, as Stephen Covey would say in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Firstly think about the outcome, what do we seek to achieve?  What are the basic building blocks, foundation stones of any society?  First things first: healthy soil, 99 per cent groundcover and everything else will follow, abiding by the first and second laws of thermodynamics – earth law, within which the laws of thermodynamics are located.

It all makes sense, when earth law comes first, since it informs how societal law and financial law fit into the equation.

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Better than burial and cremation – composting

After having spent years researching how to compost livestock, Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, received a call asking if similar techniques could be applied to humans.

Guest: Lynne Carpenter Boggs (second from left), Professor of Sustainable and Organic Agriculture at Washington State University.

Here she speaks with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live, to explain her world-first study and how composting humans as an eco-friendly alternative to burial and cremation is slowly becoming legalised across the United States.

Broadcast: Thursday 11 Nov 2021, Duration: 20min 17sec

Composting deceased persons, or natural organic reduction, provides another sustainable alternative to cremation and burial. The concept got its start from the widespread practice of composting dead livestock.

“It’s actually a fairly common practice on livestock farms,” Carpenter-Boggs said. Carpenter-Boggs is a soil scientist at Washington State University in Pullman and a research adviser for the human composting company Recompose.

“Composting is an accepted practice and actually, in many areas, a promoted practice by departments of agriculture and departments of health for the disposal of livestock mortality.” She said the team first composted livestock materials and then fine-tuned the processes for human remains.

“It’s highly effective, but it’s taken some thought and some redesign to make this a process that would be allowable and acceptable for human use,” she added.

In the pilot study, the researchers composted six donated research subjects using natural plant material as a starter. After 4–7 weeks, each body turned 2–3 cubic yards of starter into 1.5–2 cubic yards of compost and bones. Carpenter-Boggs said that as with cremation, a commercial composting facility would likely process the material further to deal with the skeletal remains.

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Legacy for the earth

The legacy of the earth was thousands, millions of years in the making. 

As a society, what will be our legacy after a couple of hundred years? As family units, what will be our legacy after from this generation to the next?

The current crop of children – crop in a sense that a gardener or farmer would plant a crop and try to encourage good growth of desirable plants.  To a large extent we can blame the current crop for turning out the way they have, being raised in a society that emphasises the individual over the group, the accumulation of possessions over the sharing of resources, the linear wasteful over the circular regenerative, dominion over the earth rather than awe and wonder of mother nature. This has produced a current crop that has a large number of invasive members that are colonizing the earth and smothering the useful plants and animals that we rely on for our nourishment and well-being.

Sadly we (not everyone, but from a whole of society perspective) fertilized this group – our children – with mainly synthetics that were lacking in life enriching stories of our earth ancestors, plants and animals. The stories mainly centred on human ambitions, technological advances and the accumulation of stuff and prizes – winning became an end in itself.

The influencers have not been earth-centred stories but rather the human-centric stories about our mastering of the technology to master the earth, to subdue and dominate.  Little wonder that our mixed messages have produced such poor results.  The outlook can be perhaps summarized in terms of:

  • Identity – who, what do we identify with?
  • Success – what are the measurement criteria?
  • Saviour – who do we look to in times of desperation for ideas beyond our own?
  • Purpose – what’s the point of this endless consumerism?
  • Substitutes – what are the replacements for the distractions and busy-ness?
  • Legacy – what are we leaving for the next generation to deal with?
  • Values – kinship is open to definition,  but it needs to include the other than human species?

How we answer and address each of these points will determine to a large degree what comes next.

In: The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future, by David Suzuki with Margaret Atwood, we are offered the culmination of David Suzuki’s knowledge and wisdom and his legacy for generations to come.

If he had to sum up all that he has learned in one last lecture, what would David Suzuki say? In this expanded version of a lecture he delivered in December 2009, Suzuki explains how we got to where we are today and presents his vision for a better future.

In his own lifetime, Suzuki has witnessed an explosion of scientific knowledge as well as a huge change in our relationship with the planet – a tripling of the world’s population, a greatly increased ecological footprint through the global economy, and a huge growth in technological capacity.

These changes have had a dire effect on Earth’s ecosystems and consequently on our own well-being.

To deal with this crisis, we must realize that the laws of nature have priority over the forces of economics and that the planet simply cannot sustain unfettered growth. We must also recognize the limits of scientific reductionism and the need to adopt a more holistic point of view. Perhaps most important, we must join together as a single species to respond to the problems we face.

Suzuki ends by saying that change begins with each of us; all it takes is imagination and a faith in the inherent generosity of Mother Earth.

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Taking a fresh look at a deadly subject as we go heading to the grave

Mortals: How the Fear of Death Shaped Human Society, by Rachel Menzies, Ross Menzies

Mortals is a ground-breaking book uncovering the fear of death as the hidden driver of most of our species’ endeavours over millennia. The human mind can grapple with the future, visualising and calculating solutions to complex problems, giving us tremendous advantages over other species throughout our evolutionary history. However, this incredible capability comes with a curse. By five to ten years of age, all humans know where they are ultimately heading: to the grave.

Rachel and Ross Menzies, both acclaimed psychologists whose life’s work has focused on this area, examine all the major human responses to death across history, from the development of religious systems denying the finality of death to ‘immortality projects’ involving enduring art, architecture and literature. While some of these have been glorious, like the construction of the pyramids, others have been destructive, leading to global conflicts and genocide. Soberingly, Rachel and Ross hypothesise that worse is to come – our unconscious dread of death has led to the rampant consumerism and overpopulation of the 20th century, which has driven the global warming and pandemic crises that now threaten our very existence. In a terribly irony, Homo sapiens may ultimately be destroyed by, quite literally, our knowledge of our own mortality.

Mortals provides the insights we need to understand the history of our species and our future direction.

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Dancing with death not everyone’s cup of tea

Can you imagine the reaction we’d get if we said that tomorrow night we were going dancing – not the usual quick step or barn dance or waltz kind of dancing, but rather we were going to do The Dance of Death. Hang on a minute. What’s that? Are you serious?

“Every era responds to crisis in its own way,” writes John McDonald, in Mortal Masquerade, Jigging with skeletons in The Dance of Death was an antidote to morbid brooding (Spectrum, SMH 9-10 October 2021).

“Our answer to COVID has been to bunker down, trust in science, and wait out the worst of it. In the Middle Ages, when Europe was devastated by the Black Death, it was believed that illness was sent by God to punish human depravity”

“The average lifespan from 1200-1300 was 43 years, but it fell to 24 years from 1300-1400 because of the Plague, which killed up to a third of the population in some regions, along with the high rate of infant mortality and the primitive medicine.”

“Death was ever present. Rather than brooding on their fate, people embraced it in ways that provided a release from tension and anxiety. One outlet was the Dance of Death – In Danse Macabre – in which, at carnival time, people would dance around with characters dressed as skeletons,” reports McDonald. “The Dance of Death was one of the truly egalitarian things in a rigidly hierarchical age. Death did not discriminate between kings and commoners.”

John McDonald goes on to provide a history of how death has been depicted in art and dance across the centuries.

But, as he notes, we are a long way from the carnival atmosphere of the medieval Dance of Death.

Writes McDonald: “I thought I’d find a few memorable works made in response to the pandemic, but while there are plenty of skeletons very few of them are dancing. The lack of such images is symptomatic of the way we see ourselves. For us, the pandemic is not an excuse for wild abandon but seclusion. Parties and dances are strictly forbidden, and there’s nothing celebratory about mindless demonstrations by militant anti-vaxxers.”

“Despite the perpetual furore generated by religion, the virus reveals the thoroughly secular nature of the developed world. We are not throwing ourselves on God’s mercy and embracing fate but resisting the very notion of death. In the Middle Ages, people lived with death and thought about it every day, but today we put it out of our minds, wishing it would go away. It’s almost axiomatic that as a society beings to believe in its own perfection, it wants less and less to do with this intractable subject. When Death comes knocking on the door and invites us to dance, we pretend there’s nobody home.”

This story kind of leaves you hanging out for answers. It raises questions and deserves thoughtful conversations.

Our next post, which will be a short review of the book Mortals, How the fear of death shaped human society, by Rachel and Ross Menzies, might be the go.

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What do contemplation and ecological diversity have in common?

Let’s start the month with a good news story that embraces a number of subjects we are passionate about. Life – death – protection of planet earth. From life to death and back again, the cycle goes on as it has done since time immemorial. This is the story about a memorial site in the form of a cemetery that’s been given a new lease on life as a park – a place of contemplation for all who visit.

Georgina Reid in: This Park in a Former Cemetery is Designed for Contemplation (Planthunter, Issue 78, Gardens, 30.09.2021) reports how tninking outside the square can produce a place of calm and contemplation from what some might seem ab unlikely landscape. She writes …

‘This is a place of death, historically, and now it is a place of life. It is full, full, full of life.’ Thomas Woltz, principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz landscape architects (NBW), is referring to the Naval Cemetery Landscape, a piece of ground with a busy history; it was once a wetland, then a shipbuilding yard, then orchards, followed by an unmarked graveyard for over 2000 people, and ball fields (the graves were exhumed in the 1920s). Nowadays, it’s one of the many public spaces that form part of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative. But, unlike most parks, it’s designed not for recreation but contemplation.

Contemplation? Contemplation, it turns out, can be grown from seed.

‘What we did was to create a site for the contemplation of the collective human condition of death. But we made something reassuring, not depressing, that reminds us of the powerful circle that life offers us. We created an ecology that draws the most life to it, as a positive reminder of our own existence.’ A native meadow, due to the diversity of life it supports – fungi, invertebrates, insects, humans – was planted,

A raised boardwalk winds through the space, built on special footings requiring no excavation, and referencing early maps of the wetland that once existed on site. ‘Everything has an origin and a meaning,’ Thomas says.

The park is a hotbed of abundance, and a place of respite for all creatures ­– two-legged, ten-legged, no-legged. It’s also a place of learning. Research by urban nature organisation Nature Sacred is being undertaken in the park to better understand nature’s effects on stressed communities. In each of their gardens, according to Thomas, Nature Sacred install a bench with a weatherproof box containing a journal. Everyone is invited to contribute. The entries in the book have made Thomas weep more than once.

‘I have cried hot tears on reading that book. People who are facing terminal illness, abuse, psychological trauma – they come and they sit on the bench and they are immersed in the fecund life of this space and they get it. Their bodies get it.’

Link to full story here: Park for contemplation

Georgina Reid is a writer and designer, and the founding editor of The Planthunter. In addition to editing The Planthunter, Georgina contributes to a range of design and culture publications and speaks regularly about her work. Georgina’s first book, The Planthunter: Truth, Beauty, Chaos, and Plants was released in Australia by Thames and Hudson in 2018, and in the USA by Timber Press in 2019.  

Note: If you describe something as fecund, you approve of it because it produces a lot of good or useful things.

More here about the: Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, and another program here: Nature Sacred

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Lament, loss, exile and oblivion

How many different ways can you approach a particular area of interest? Well if the call for papers for this symposium in any indication, heaps. We came across it n the latest newsletter from the The Centre for Death and Society (CDAS), University of Bath, in the UK..

It’s going to be a packed program with over 33 topics covered. It just goes to show how many ways you can come at an area of interest when you take an academic approach to it. Gone are the days of the overall general holistic ways of knowing. Now, as with many aspects of science and technology it’s all about drilling down into the minute detail and for us getting overwhelmed to the point of paralysis and then being at the mercy of those who have a commercial interest in simply getting on with the job – we take a pain out of painful situations they say.

There can be some merit in examining the components that go to make up the whole, but let’s not get overtaken to the point where we have to hand everything over the professional undertaker. Here’s some of the notes about the symposium … with the list of 33 topics.

Cultures of Lament, Exile, and Oblivion: A Symposium – Fri 28th Jan 2022

The Fellows of St John’s College, Durham University, in collaboration with the Department of Theology and Religion, warmly invite your interest in this one-day symposium on Cultures of Lament, Exile, and Oblivion.

While papers on each theme in relation to specific data, texts, or research questions will structure our proceedings, the Symposium Committee particularly encourages proposals on the nuances and opportunities of their thematic relationship by teasing out expressions of their mutual configuration in the complexity of human lives.

What might lament, exile, or oblivion – and their venerable histories of experience – convey to us today? What are their hermeneutical and ethical implications for our grasp of the human condition? These great themes of existence lie at the heart of our Call for Research and how, across diverse cultures and eras, they are experimentally pursued in the rhyme and reason of ritual-symbolism, narrative, myth, art and architecture, and the dramatic textures of politics and poetry, faith, music, identity, and ethics not least. Why, then, do some human cultures, religious or otherwise, persist in depictions of a world of ultimate oblivion for its mortal inhabitants? What might this declare about our epistemologies, our cultural classifications, our emotional or psychological adjudications of the world into which we are thrown? How might oblivion illuminate discussions in our contemporary age, so often diagnosed with social fracture, amnesia, and malaise, and spring forth the hope of their opposite in belonging, memory, and rootedness?

What kind of truth might exile speak to the human condition at large as well as to the displaced of our own day, the marginalised, those in flight from their homeland? And how or why do these experiences often issue in songs of lament, in ritual weeping, in social action and petition, and in philosophic schemes that bid to reveal or conceal the depth of our vulnerable exposure? In short, how have these brute facts of mortal life aided the pinch or push of intellectual, artistic, architectural, and musical creativity? Wherein lies the longevity of these forms in communicating what so often seems to trouble our words in the throes of lament, exile, or oblivion?

Themes of Interest: We welcome creative interpretations of the following topics in relation to our principal themes (N.B. this is not an exclusive or comprehensive list):

• Identity and/or narratives of belonging and resistance
• Protest and/or prophecy
• Environmentalism
• Sectarianism
• Ritual-Symbolism
• Diaspora, migration, refugee crisis
• Force
• Therapy and clinical approaches/experiences
• Theories of knowledge
• Escapism
• Desire
• Language, crisis, paradox; meaning making/breaking
• Technology, consumerism, and the periodization of being
• Existential angst/fear, philosophies of extinction
• War and peace; terror and offensive death
• The attention economy
• Qualities of relation, perception, and action
• Networked identities and the opacity of the self
• Mythic genesis and/or rupture
• Traditional-Secular spiritualities
• Scriptural and theological approaches
• Pastoral contexts
• Embodiment and/or emotion
• Time, temporality, tenses, and tonalities
• Altered states of consciousness
• Theories of culture and the human person
• Ethics, pain, suffering; theodicy and threnody
• Death, mortality, and grief
• Tangibility and material culture

We strongly welcome presentations across a range of textual, historical, philosophical, musical, literary, artistic, and social-scientific disciplines as well as experience-led practitioners in the therapeutic and clinical sciences.

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More choices for body disposal is a good thing

The choices on offer for body disposal is on the rise and not before time.

Not that burial was a poor option for hundreds of years. But as space for cemeteries runs out the need for other methods is exercising the minds of a few enterprising people.

We have reported on the Recompose method over the last couple of years, but it’s a business and requires the building of a substantial piece of infrastructure. While claiming the eco-friendly tag, these two new offerings are worth noting …. read on.

North Queensland is the setting for this story by Sally Rafferty, Jessica Naunton and Michael Clarke in Eco-friendly cremation technique leaves behind half a cup of liquid DNA instead of ashes (ABC North Qld, 21 September 2021).

Jeff Boyle says the technology produced no fumes or pollution and was totally carbon neutral.
“The energy used for a cremator is equivalent to lighting up a football field, while the energy used by The Gentle Way lights up a small office,” he said.

The system, developed by Jeff Boyle, a funeral director from North Queensland, is based on what he claims is a world-first water-spray alternative to cremation that leaves half a cup of liquid DNA instead of ashes, the ABC journalists report.

is not unlike acquamation (alkaline hydrolysis) – a method that’s been around for many years, but not widely used for a number of reasons that we won’t go into here. It mimics the process of alkaline breaking down the body in the ground.

“The water is sprayed over the body, much like a shower head does, for approximately 10 hours,” Mr Boyle said.

“The water goes through a specialised filtration system and it takes the DNA of the person out of the water and cleans it back like new again.”

The alkalinity reduces the body matter to bones.

The bone fragments are then processed and stored in an urn that, along with the liquid DNA, is given to the deceased’s loved ones.

The technique differs to alkaline hydrolysis offered in New South Wales, where bodies are put in a stainless steel drum filled with hydrogen peroxide and water and heated to 93 degrees Celsius.

The technology was successfully used for the first time last week, but it is already proving popular. Forty prearranged funerals have booked it in North Queensland and 10 funeral homes across the country have pre-ordered their own machines.

“We’ve had inquiries from France, we’ve had inquiries from Germany because they’re all about environmentally friendly,” Mr Boyle said.

More at this link: Eco friendly cremation

In a suburban warehouse tucked between an auto repair shop and a computer recycling business in Denver, Colorado, Seth Viddal is dealing with life and death.

Body composting a ‘green’ alternative to burial and cremation (ABC / Associated Press, 26 September, 2021)

“Composting itself is a very living function and it’s performed by living organisms,” he said.
“There are billions of microbial, living things in our digestive tracts and just contained in our body, so when our one life ceases, the life of those microbes does not cease.”

Key points:

  • Body composting reduces human remains through a natural organic process over months
  • Colorado has become the second US state after Washington to allow human body composting
  • Young people motivated by sustainability are expressing interest in the process.

The insulated wooden box is about two metres in length, 90 centimetres wide and deep, lined with waterproof roofing material and packed with wood chips and straw.

One of the drawbacks is that it’s not quick. It takes three months for the process to work, which might be much longer than people are prepared to wait. Sot this one is indeed a wait and see.

The good thing is that we are being offered more choice and smaller operators are challenging the limited options previously available, mostly controlled by the larger corporate funeral providers.

Read more here: Could body composting be the new way to go?

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Coffin club community delivers quality endings

It’s one of the longest running Coffin Clubs in Australia and it’s one of the most vibrant. Not the kind of word one tends to find associated with an end of life group, but it’s an accurate description for this hands on practical method of dealing with the inevitable.

Some coffins made at Ulverstone’s Community Coffin Club have been by friends and supporters. This one is Care Beyond Cure secretary Lynne Jarvis’s own woven model.(ABC Northern Tasmania: Rick Eaves)

This is the story about Community Coffin Club members at Ulverstone, northern Tasmania, who have come together to celebrate five years of a club and a concept that has inspired many others facing their mortality around Australia and the world.

In: At the Community Coffin Club at Ulverstone, living and dying well are part of life, Rick Eaves (ABC Northern Tasmania, Wed 11 Aug 2021) tells how “At this coffin club, laughter, music, food, cute dogs and shared experience lay the foundations on which to build a serious understanding of “death literacy”.

It’s all about knowing what happens when you die, what happens before and after you take your last breath, and what it all means for family and friends.

Organiser Lynne Jarvis says it’s all about educating, supporting and empowering people. 

“The idea is that individuals can make their own coffin and family and friends can help with that. In itself it is a beautiful, empowering process,” she said.

“But we also have our art and death literacy space where anyone can come — they can bring their knitting and just say ‘hi’.”

Lynne is also secretary of Care Beyond Cure, a group that organises therapy and respite days for chronically and terminally ill people and their carers.

She said the group aimed to ease the financial and emotional burdens of those facing the challenges of severe illness or life’s final chapter.

Care Beyond Cure is also in the process of establishing Tender Funerals Tasmania, the first not-for-profit, community-owned and led funeral home for the state.

Good news stories are worth passing around the traps, and this is one them. Read all of Ricks news post here: Community Coffin Club for living and dying well as part of life.

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The NORM and the NORO

Here are a couple of new acronyms for us to get our heads around.

A clue or two probably won’t be sufficient to provide the four words involved, but the image will go a long way towards giving us a good idea.

A NORM is a Natural Organic Reduction Manager and a NORO is a Natural Organic Reduction Operator. They are both positions within the Recompose business which is offering the service of body composting in the USA.

Death – though heart-wrenching – can be beautiful. Its rituals can be meaningful, and disposition of the body can be gentle and natural.

Recompose is an ecological death care company based in Seattle, Washington. When we open Recompose will offer the service of natural organic reduction (NOR), where human bodies are converted into soil. We are building the Recompose model to be an alternative to the existing funeral industry, offering an authentic, participatory experience for families and a natural return to the earth for the dead.

Natural organic reduction is a managed thermophilic biological process used to convert organic material, including human remains, into a more stable earthy organic material that is unrecognizable as human remains.

More information at the link: Become soil when you die

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