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Feature - issue #2

End of Life Environmentalism

US environmentalists are challenging established death conventions by demonstrating alternatives to managing the end of life. These ecodeath advocates hope to ‘green’ the system by reducing or eliminating the environmental harms associated with current practices and finding creativeways for humans to reconnect with nature through death.

Death is a complex and sensitive matter. Losing our loved ones deeply affects us. But we also know that mortality stands as an unavoidable part of life. When encountering death we draw on our cultural beliefs and traditions to guide us. These norms and values can provide us with well-worn paths for dealing with dying and death, but they help us only to the degree that we find comfort, security, and meaning in them. As norms and values change, so do our practices.

We are now seeing major shifts in how we understand and practice death and dying in the west. Researchers have observed how, during the 20th century, dying changed from a publicly-visible experience, managed by family, church, and community, to a much more private matter. Death has been increasingly hidden away from daily experience, behind the walls of hospitals and mortuaries where death professionals manage the dying process on behalf of the public. Culturally, we have come to interpret death more as a health issue to be managed by medical personnel, while diminishing the roles played by family and community. Now, our professionalised ‘death systems’ efficiently manage the process for millions of individuals and families every year. But this efficiency has its limits.

Ramsey Creek Preserve, the first conservation burial ground in the US.

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