Stephen Arons: Composting human remains reminds readers of 1973 sci-fi film

  • In this April 19 file photo, Katrina Spade, the founder and CEO of Recompose, a company that hopes to use composting as an alternative to burying or cremating human remains, poses for a photo in a cemetery in Seattle, as she displays a sample of compost material left from the decomposition of a cow using a combination of wood chips, alfalfa and straw. AP photo

Published: 5/29/2019 9:40:21 PM

A May 24 article on the composting of human remains in Washington state, “UMass seeded law on composting human remains,” may not be as environmentally and culturally hopeful as all the smiles and quotations in it suggest.

To understand why, just use your favorite movie app to watch the 1973 film, “Soylent Green.” The film takes place in a then distant future, 2022, in which the world is grossly overpopulated — about 7 billion as I remember it, pretty much what it is today.

The oceans are dying due to the greenhouse effect, and pollution, poverty, depleted resources, divisiveness and inhuman brutality have rendered our blue-green orb a hellish struggle for an ultimately dehumanizing survival. Food is in such scarce supply that the only real protein nutrition available is Soylent Green, a food which is made by “processing” the corpses of those millions who die in any of the ways characteristic of a conflict-riven planet experiencing the death throes of yet another mass extinction.

It’s a sci-fi detective story, a chilling foreshadowing of environmental catastrophe, and a warning — perhaps — that the composting of human remains, so gleefully announced in Friday’s article, may not be so much a sign of environmental progress as a precursor of something grotesquely dehumanizing, frightening and perhaps unavoidable.

Do we really know what distorted forms of life will grow from soil enriched by composting our friends and relatives? Is it possible that artificial intelligence will conclude eventually that what is now voluntary in Washington state should become internationally compulsory as our environment is degraded?

Might there be something emotional or spiritual or just endemic to what it means to be human that makes the composting of human remains a form of environmental progress that is, in reality, a signpost to a brave new world?

Stephen Arons

North Hatfield




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