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Environment

Washington Just Legalized the Composting of Human Bodies

Elias Marat

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Composting of Human Bodies
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In a move that’s being hailed as a positive step by environmentalists, Washington has become the first state to legalize the composting of human remains, offering people a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial or cremation.

Governor Jay Inslee, who has prioritized climate and environmental causes since coming into office, signed the bill on Tuesday. The law will allow those who die in Washington after May of next year, to have their bodies turned into soil through a process called recomposition—colloquially referred to as “human composting.” The bill explains that the process is a “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains to soil.”

Katrina Spade, who lobbied for the bill and helped develop the recomposition process through her Seattle-based company Recompose, told AFP:

“Recomposition offers an alternative to embalming and burial or cremation that is natural, safe, sustainable, and will result in significant savings in carbon emissions and land usage.

Spade added:

“The idea of returning to nature so directly and being folded back into the cycle of life and death is actually pretty beautiful.” 

Spade detailed the process, which her company will be the first to offer, to KIRO:

“(The) body is covered in natural materials, like straw or wood chips, and over the course of about three to seven weeks, thanks to microbial activity, it breaks down into soil.”

As the body is broken down in a steel container over the course of 30 days, bereaved family members will be able to visit the facility and eventually receive two wheelbarrows of soil, which they can then use in a manner of their choosing, such as planting flowers or trees.

The approach was developed in conjunction with Washington State University, which conducted clinical trials with six donor bodies.

Spade noted:

“We proved recomposition was indeed safe and effective for humans as well.”

State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who sponsored the bill, said that the disposal method is far more environmentally friendly than traditional burial or cremation methods. He explained:

“It’s about time we apply some technology, allow some technology to be applied to this universal human experience … because we think that people should have the freedom to determine for themselves how they’d like their body to be disposed of.”

Typical burials are costly affairs and carry a huge economic burden for bereaved families, who must pay between $8,000 and $25,000. Cremation can cost more than $6,000. Spade, however, hopes to charge only $5,500.

Funeral Consumers Alliance Director Joshua Slocum told The Seattle Times:

“I think this is great. In this country, we have a massively dysfunctional relationship with death, which does not make good principles for public policy. Disposition of the dead, despite our huge emotional associations with it, is not—except in very rare cases—a matter of public health and public safety. It’s a real tough thing for people to get their minds around, and a lot of our state laws stand in the way of people returning to simple, natural, uncomplicated, inexpensive ways of doing things.”

From an environmental standpoint, it remains inarguable that traditional burials carry a number of ecological drawbacks. As the Smithsonian explained:

“Each after-death action comes with its own set of environmental impacts, from embalming chemicals that leach into groundwater to transportation emissions. Many cremation facilities lack modern filtration systems and spew carbon dioxide and mercury into the atmosphere. Cemeteries themselves carry an environmental cost: Many depend on fertilizers and large amounts of water to maintain that clipped, mowed look.”

For Spade, the next goal will be to build the first “organic reduction” funeral home in the U.S., which she hopes will be the start of a new trend in the country that makes ecological and scientific sense rather than blindly clinging to old traditions.

Spade told The Seattle Times:

“I feel so happy… I can’t believe we’ve come all this way, but here we are.”

Animals

As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent: Scientists

Elias Marat

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The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.

However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.

While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.

The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and North Pole.

The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes –  but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.

“When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.

To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.

However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.

These changes augur major disruptions to global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.

The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.

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Environment

Japan Says Dumping Fukushima Radioactive Water in Pacific Ocean is Now “Unavoidable”

Elias Marat

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While Japan last month marked the 10th anniversary of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami with solemn ceremonies, the government has also been stressing the successes of its recovery efforts in the country’s northeast.

In truth, however, the country is still coping with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which has already cost Japan trillions of yen and whose exclusion zone will require up to 40 more years to fully rehabilitate.

And with contaminated water continuing to build up at the ruined Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says that the government must finally begin dumping it into the Pacific Ocean.

With nuclear waste and fuel rods still contaminating the area, over one million tons of radioactive waste water continue to seep from the facility, according to The Japan Times, forcing authorities into what Suga describes as the “unavoidable” position of having to dump the water.

Officials claim that the water would be purified to the maximum extent possible, but environmentalist groups like Greenpeace warn that the water contains hazardous material that could damage human DNA and the health of marine life.

Fishers also fear that consumers will refuse to buy fish caught in contaminated waters, worsening their plight amid a restriction of imports from Fukushima prefecture imposed by 15 countries and regions.

Regardless, authorities argue they must deal with the cards that have been dealt.

“What to do with the [treated] water is a task that the government can no longer put off without setting a policy,” Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said on Wednesday.

Suga is expected to formally decide on the course of action by next Tuesday. If he proceeds, authorities will dilute tritium to 2.5 percent of the maximum concentration allowed by the country before it is dumped.

But while Japanese officials say that the water will be safe, it remains an open question whether people will trust their word.

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Environment

Crowds Flock to Lava-Spewing Volcanoes in Italy, Iceland and Guatemala to Get Closer View

Elias Marat

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The year 2021 has so far been a particularly active time for volcanic eruptions. In February and March, three spectacular volcanic eruptions have occurred: the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland, Mount Etna in Italy and Pacaya in Guatemala.

In each case, the eruptions have drawn large crowds of curious onlookers and sightseers.

In vivid video captured at Fagradalsfjall volcano on April 1, lava can be seen being spewed as amazed onlookers can be heard in the background. According to local reports, tens of thousands of people have been drawn to the area to view the eruption.

Iceland’s authorities are not anticipating evacuations due to the mile-and-a-half distance from the nearest road.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and as of now it is not considered a threat to surrounding towns,” said Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. “We ask people to keep away from the immediate area and stay safe.”

Italy and Guatemala have also experienced a few volcanic eruptions this year.

On March 7, Sicilian villages were showered with ash and lava stone following the eruption of Mount Etna, which began its highly active phase in February.

The Pacaya volcano lying 30 miles south of the Guatemalan capital has also been extremely active since February.

Pacaya’s peak typically attracts tourists, but hikes are temporarily on hold due to the uptick in activity. Pacaya has a clear view of the nearby Volcano of Fire, whose lava flows in a 2018 eruption killed at least 110 people and left rougly 200 missing.

While volcano tourism provides a steady source of income for villages like nearby San Francisco de Sales, locals must balance this with the need to ensure their long-term safety.

So far, however, Pacaya has not yet injured locals.

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