Cemeteries Death + Technology Death + the Web Eco-Death

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries. TEDx Talk by John Troyer

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries
John Troyer, TEDxBristol Talk (September 15, 2012)

On September 15, 2012 I was one of the TEDxBristol speakers. The TEDxBristol 2012 theme was Future Shock, so I took the opportunity to discuss three of my favorite topics: Future Death, Future Dead Bodies, and Future Cemeteries.

The entire TEDx event was organized exceptionally well, and I was impressed by all the speakers. I usually count on at least one speaker who completely blows it and becomes that guy (because it’s almost always one of the male speakers) so that I can be relieved that I wasn’t that guy. But no.

 John Troyer using officially recognizable TED talk hand gestures

John Troyer using officially recognizable TED talk hand gestures

What really stands out for me from the day is the live drawing being done by artist Nat Al-Tahhan as each of us spoke. Nat drew images reflecting our talks, while we spoke, and she nailed the day down. I love the images. You can see them here.

I’m fairly certain that Death Ref readers can determine when I spoke, based only on the drawings.

The video of my talk is now up and you can watch it on YouTube here or above.

cremation Death + the Economy

More Americans Choosing Cremation to Save Money

In Tough Times, a Boom in Cremations as a Way to Save Money
Kevin Sack, The New York Times (December 09, 2011)
If current American trends hold, in 2017, more bodies will be cremated than buried, and funeral directors say the cost is a major factor in the decision.

When the Death Reference Desk started in July 2009, we immediately began discussing death, dying, the dead body and the economy. You can read all of those posts in the Death + the Economy section. I mention these pieces on the postmortem economy (for lack of a better term) since most of the articles tell, and then eventually re-tell, the same story. The New York Times, as one example, has repeatedly run articles with the same basic lead: overall funeral costs have gotten so high that many Americans are choosing cremation instead of burial to save money.


The wider socio-economic picture is complicated but on the whole this analysis is correct. What makes this particular New York Times article slightly different than its progenitors is the focus on how different communities make funeral choices based on costs. The article discusses how African-Americans in parts of Virginia historically resisted cremation since it suggested poverty. There are some significant religious reasons involved too, i.e., a long tradition of the Black Church funeral complete with a burial.

The shift towards cremation for American funerals will not change. Indeed, it appears that more Americans than not will be choosing cremation in the very near future.

cremation Eco-Death

Putting Death Down the Drain

Dying to Be Green? Try “Bio-Cremation”
Nicole Mordant, Reuters (December 1, 2009)

There’s a shiny new final disposition in town, attempting to gain ground on the green burial bandwagon: Resomation, developed in Scotland in 2007, also known as bio-cremation.

Cremation is consistently flogged for its high energy consumption and resulting pollutants. Bio-cremation, on the other hand, uses “less than a tenth of the amount of natural gas and a third of the electricity,” by means of a chemical process involving alkaline hydrolysis.

According to the Reuters article, all that remains is “some bone residue and a syrupy brown liquid that is flushed down the drain. The bones can be crushed and returned to the family as with cremation.”

This last bit seems to be the only real relation to cremation: loved ones receive a packet of bone fragments which people may bury, memorialize on the mantle, put into tattoos, shoot into space, fire into diamonds, et cetera.

Human remains inside the resomation chamber at the Mayo Clinic, by Finn O'Hara Photography.

Wait, did that say the syrupy brown liquid of death is flushed down the drain? Indeed it does. Resomated bodies are as natural as any other human waste we routinely put through the pipes. Predictably, this makes some people uncomfortable, such as Catholics, who thwarted a move to introduce bio-cremation in New York a couple years ago, citing it “not a respectful way to dispose of human remains.”

Fair enough, though just as arguably, cremation or burial are not respectful ways of treating the earth. Given the significant energy savings and pollution avoidance, environmentalism may very well prevail — plus, you can retrieve and recycle metal parts, like hip and knee replacements. I just hope they can settle on a name that isn’t obtuse, misleading or trademarked.