The human disposition

My wife recently discovered a lump on my body and a closer inspection found a second one. This was a concerning discovery and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week. In the days leading up to my appointment I had some internal angst, worried about cancer and various other potential issues. This got me to thinking more about death and I recalled a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency blog I had seen detailing options for ‘dying greener’.

Conventional funerals, burials, and cremations are typically not environmentally friendly. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, cemeteries across the U.S. each year bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (includes formaldehyde), 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets), 30 million board feet of hardwoods (caskets), 1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults), and 14,000 tons of steel (vaults). Flame-based cremation is typically the best of the three traditional methods but is also energy intensive and little regard is given for the release of mercury and other emissions that come from the process.

Our traditional means of human disposal is not at the top of the list of environmental concerns, but like many things it presents an opportunity to improve. Over 10 years ago The Mayo Clinic created a process called Alkaline Hydrolysis as a means of disposing of cadavers more efficiently. Today that process is becoming more mainstream with progressive funeral homes offering it as a ‘green option’. It is sometimes called bio cremation, green cremation, or flameless cremation. The process places the deceased in to a steel cylinder that is filled with 95% water and 5% alkali which are heated to 350 degrees. This makes complete decomposition, which would normally take about 25 years, only take about 2-3 hours. The end result is nothing but some soft bone fragments and possibly mercury cavity fillings remaining, everything else is dissolved in to a sterile solution. Dexter Morgan could have really benefitted from having access to this technology.

At the doctor, my lumps ended up being nothing to be overly concerned about (lipoma, a benign body fat tumor). Regardless, it is good to know that when my time comes I can be taken to the Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater and boiled in to dust using less energy and emitting 75% less carbon than alternatives. I also saw a video about burial pods on my nieces Facebook feed recently. That is an interesting thought as well and could transform would be cemeteries in to forests.

The power of (knowing) people

Recently while attending a confirmation class with my daughter, everyone took the Gary Chapman 5 Love Languages test. My results came back with Acts of Service as number one. It got me thinking about the fact that I really do like to do things for people and have them do things for me. A few days later I was clearing my driveway of snow and opted to do the neighbor’s driveway as well; as I concluded my neighbor brought me out a hot cup of coffee in appreciation. It was a thoughtful gesture and in one blissful moment I was performing and receiving and act of service.

This got me thinking about the power of being good neighbor and relationships in general. It occurred to me that having relationships and being connected to other people is a great way to be “green”. Over the years I have borrowed countless tools and items I did not want to go buy. My quick recollection of items includes a chainsaw, power washer, riding lawn mower with trailer, hole saw drill bits, an angle grinder, a ladder, and human power to move furniture. The same people who lend me items have borrowed my lawnmower, leaf blower, table and chairs, computer skills, car, nail gun, and roof rake. What I like best is that no one is keeping score and for things that are used rarely, sharing them seems like a great option. Three of my neighbors have taken this mentality to the next level; several years ago they all went in together and bought a riding lawn mower. They share the maintenance costs and two of them avoid having to store a big riding mower. The system might not always be perfect, but they are leveraging an effective cost sharing model.

I have not always been the best neighbor, brother, son, husband, father, or friend and at different times in my life have had visions of living very isolated and independent, but then I recall I am not very skilled in the areas required for such an existence. The reality is that I need people and people need me and you are likely no different. Go out and connect with someone, borrow or lend something, help a neighbor, offer to carpool, or simply listen to a loved one. While I could dwell on the idea of all this being great for the environment, the true benefit is in creating a network of friends and fulfilling your love for Acts of Service (if you are in to that type of thing). After all, performing an Act of Service can have its benefits.

It’s the holiday season

With the holidays almost upon us it is a good time to start to reflect and plan for holiday shopping. It has taken a while, but I have come to realize that if I put more time and focus in to thinking what to get for a person, I feel more excited about the gift and likely the recipient does as well. One of my goals for this year is to avoid giving things that will end up unused and dusty, or quickly in a landfill. Below are some of my thoughts on the subject.

  • As opposed to buying a bunch of toys or other typical gift items, consider giving the gift of experiences.  This could be tickets to the water or trampoline park, a zoo or Netflix membership, concert tickets, a music subscription, a date night, a vacation, or a variety of other events.  A friend of mine who is now an empty nester, talks about how he used to ask his kids what they got for Christmas last year and they would rarely remember.  But if he asked them where they went and what they did on vacation they could quickly recall with a smile on their face.  That was part of the catalyst that transitioned his family in to spending more on being together and less on unmemorable gifts.  I think this sums up the idea of giving experiences very well, people are a lot more likely to have fond memories of a thoughtful and personalized experience than a standard store bought item.
  • Stealing a line from Dick Enrico (2nd wind exercise), why buy new when slightly used will do? I have commented before on how it amazes me the things that I consider junk that people are willing to take off of my hands.  It also amazes me the things that are not junk that others are willing to sell.  This season consider checking out thrift stores, e-bay, play it again sports, and other second hand retailers.  Chances are if you look, you can find you might have your own version of a This and That or Reclaimed by Joy with unique gift items.
  • With the above in mind and the idea of investing more time and thought in to gift buying, try and avoid impulse purchases.  Make a list, have a plan, and stick to it.  And while you are it, bring a re-usable bag and avoid buying gift wrap.  In the U.S. alone, 4M tons of trees are turned from carbon absorbing entities to wrapping paper and gift bags.  Consider using part of the gift as the wrap (scarf, blanket, etc.) or making a unique gift wrap from ideas on Pinterest or similar.

Now that I have posted this, the pressure is on…. Time to go do some thinking about those on my gift list-