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Near future, the world is starved for energy. Nuclear, geothermal, renewables and biomass are used, but since oil and natural gas are exhausted they are not enough. Fresh water is exhausted and desalination requires a lot of energy. Many minerals are exhausted and recycling electronics without using acids requires a lot of energy. Land is exhausted and making deserts habitable requires a lot of energy. The cheapest remaining available source is organic matter. They begin by putting dead animals in greenhouses to desiccate them. The greenhouses are sealed to reduce oxygen and slow down decomposition. Then everything is mixed with wood chips and algae oil to improve combustion and burned in the classic biomatter plant.

They start by putting traps in all the sewers to catch mice, cockroaches and other insects. Then they begin to catch urban pigeons, crows and sea gulls, allegedly to cull them. But the demand for energy is still high and eventually they add dead people (people dead for old age or natural causes) to the mix. In some countries this is done secretly, they just give some ash to the families as if they were their ashes. In some countries they only burn people with no close relatives or people of poor families that cannot afford a funeral, but in some countries this is done openly. How can they justify the practice?

BTW even with dead people the initial step would be desiccation in sealed greenhouses, so the water content of the bodies should not be a hindrance.

Some users pointed that it would be more efficient to burn directly the food rather than the people, but that would require extreme measures, to make the food available, like forced sterilization, that would be way more controversial.

It could also be the case of a society on the verge of a collapse, like pointed by others, it is possible, anyway I see it as a scenario where people are scraping the bottom of the barrel, burning anything they see around. A view that actually was inspired by the increasing use of rubbish incinerators.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 30 '21 at 15:29
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Only brief, acute energy requirements could ever justify burning people for energy

When people (or any animal) eat food, the majority of the energy is lost to heat, etc, because thermodynamics and entropy.

You could reasonably argue that if there was an immediate urgent need for a lot of energy (or just heat) right now, then maybe some excess segment of the humans in need would be the only thing left. (That final course-correction on the colony ship to safely land survivors, maybe...)

In any other circumstance, you'd be more efficient burning the food instead of first feeding people and then burning the people.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please read again the question. The matter is not from animals raised for that purpose, it is the matter already available around and gathered in the cheapest possible manner. The calculation on the energy expenditure to create it and the balance is pointless. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @FluidCode You're just in love with your question. $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ The other problem is that because of how much water is in people's bodies, it takes far more energy to dry the body enough to burn it than is gained by burning it. In other words, there is no energy justification to burn people for energy. Instead, gather the energy that would go into drying the bodies and use that. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand your answer. The burned people are dead. They are not burned alive for the energy. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Nov 30 '21 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ This is exactly the problem I had with The Matrix. It would be more efficient to burn the food used for the people in the Matrix than to harness the peoples' heat. $\endgroup$ Nov 30 '21 at 23:48
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There are many dead people.

I shall not speak of the railway, for it is like any other railway—I shall only say that the fuel they use for the locomotive is composed of mummies three thousand years old, purchased by the ton or by the graveyard for that purpose, and that sometimes one hears the profane engineer call out pettishly, “D—n these plebeians, they don’t burn worth a cent—pass out a King;”—[Stated to me for a fact. I only tell it as I got it. I am willing to believe it. I can believe any thing.]

The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain 1869

Historical circumstance has provided your world with a tremendous stock of preserved dead bodies. They make fine fuel.

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  • $\begingroup$ indeed +1.. and it better be for good purpose and effective use, not wasted like 98% is now. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Dec 1 '21 at 20:15
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It's a Trend

As we move into the 21st century, the popularity of biome friendly practices is becoming seen as increasingly more necessary and popular. So, politicians and celebrities seeking to garner favor or raise awareness sometimes choose to do weird things with thier bodies when they die to promote these sorts of causes. In recent years we've seen activists doing things like choosing un-embalmed burials to prevent the toxins from leaching into the soil, have thier skin turned into wallets as a criticism of the leather industry, or have thier organs cut from thier corpse to be transplanted into other people's bodies. Some of these practices have trended more than others, but the point of them all is the same: to show off how good you are by choosing to do something responsible with your own remains.

So instead of this being a thing you do to poor people, you make it a trend started by rich and influential people. The reality is that it will never produce an even slightly significant amount of power on a global scale, but it makes a powerful political statement that people would be drawn to. In a few years organ cloning and gene therapy will be so good that we do not need organ donors any more; so, when that happens, we will need a new trend of righteous things to do with your body when you die, and cremation for power as a form of recycling could fill that niche.

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  • $\begingroup$ "It's a Trend" is just a religion based on modern texts and blogs and TicTok and other Social Media stuff. $\endgroup$ Nov 30 '21 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKutz Trends are distinctly different than religion because trends are an expression of social status, not a belief system. Also, trending was a thing LONG before social media. Remember when the Greeks decided shaving was "civilized"? That was just because everyone's favorite conqueror, Alexander the Great, did not have facial hair. Then there were cod pieces, macaroni wigs, hobble dresses, neck rings, foot binding... pick any time and place, and there are trends that people follow to express thier social status. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 30 '21 at 16:46
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How can they justify the practice?

Easy:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people

-- Karl Marx

Think the "Renew" scene in Logan's Run

Note you'd be hard pressed to define why your future society stopped development of Compact Fusion Reactors

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  • $\begingroup$ I avoided nuclear fusion because I am thinking about a credible near future context. Nuclear fusion is way, way far, in the media it is used just to sell dreams. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ About religion, I don't know, I am assuming that people are a little bit more educated. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ @FluidCode Fusion is a much more near future technology than most people realize. The first reactor that should as all math and science predicts be able to produce net positive output is already being built. MIT predicts the first net positive reactor will be built and tested by 2025. singularityhub.com/2020/10/05/… news.mit.edu/2021/… $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ @FluidCode That is the easy part, you just place the reactor in a pool of water, and solves those problems exactly the same as a fission reactor does ... Also, even if SPARC does not come through, there is also ITER which is also slated for first tests in 2025 which is a different plan for >1 Q-factor by self generating tritium for a deuterium-tritium reaction. At this point, it is no longer a question of if we are close, but who will deliver the first/best functional reactors to market. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 30 '21 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Jenkar Yes, ITER is expected to be about 1.1 which is why I mostly focused on SPARC which should be far more efficient. Unlike ITER, one of the plans for SPARC are to actually make a functional 50-100MW generator, but the combined outcomes of ITER & SPARC (if things even go close to predictions) will be everything needed to produce economically viable, large scale fusion power plants. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Nov 30 '21 at 17:52
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Make it part of The Imagined Order.

Much of our current religions, laws, and mores are based on our communal belief in shared myths. We don't need objective grounds - we need our neighbors and friends to believe the same thing we believe.

This process will be slow, unless you can find ways for authoritative organizations to make it seem a matter of utmost urgency (which it is) for the individual (which it is not yet?).
Straight off the top, so cliché: fabricate a myth of a flesh-eating virus, and that only incineration can kill the virus.

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Given the state of the world, as you describe, how much land would be available for cemeteries and could this land be used to something else, or is the land so contaminated that it is dangerous to have graves dug?

If so, what are the options for disposing of corpses?

  • Temporary placement in a decomposition "cell" were microbes consume the soft tissue leaving the bones. When that occurs the bones are then ground and given to the family to keep or dispose by other means. Or they could be used as fertilizer - see blood and bone.
  • Dissolution of the corpse using chemicals or other processes. What then happens with the results of dissolution?
  • Cremation could be altered from what it is now to what you want for your story. It's a means of disposing of corpses and providing much needed energy. The culture of society might need to change for this occur. It's a better option than turning dead people, whether euthanased or not, into food for other people, as outlined in Soylent Green. Soylent Green was set in 2022 - 31 days away!
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  • $\begingroup$ The trouble with Soylent Green is that people in that movie do not try to justify what they are doing. They keep it secret in a ruthless manner. $\endgroup$
    – FluidCode
    Dec 1 '21 at 10:45
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Some people already choose to be cremated.

The how is pretty easy - many people choose to be cremated already. Some cultures heavily preferred cremation such as Norse cultures. If land is scarce cremations will likely be heavily favored anyway.

This idea still won't work because there just isn't that much energy in a body.

In order for a body to grow it needs energy. Way more energy than you'd get by burning it. Most bodies are mainly made up of water, so you'll have to dehydrate it somehow - that'll either take a lot of time or a lot of energy.

In a real energy crisis, this would be a finger in a dam about to collapse. The cost of transporting and preparing the bodies will likely take more energy than you'd get.

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