How Cemeteries Are Responding to Climate Change and Obesity

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Hello again! I want to apologize for the unannounced hiatus for the past few months - we had a very packed summer that ran well into fall, with a lot of travel and on-site work. Infestation is often more pronounced during the summer months, and decomposition can accelerate in the heat, though there seemed to be even a slight uptake in the amount and extent of the calls this year. Some of that I would contribute to the extreme temperatures we saw in the high summer weeks. In general, mausoleums from early spring to early fall require more attention, as issues can literally emerge overnight and quickly escalate. 

I'll be getting back to regular posting next month. Bill, Jordan, Dave, and myself will be at the Mid-Atlantic Cemetery Conference in Atlantic City next week (Nov. 7-9), so be sure to stop by and say hello if you are attending!

There are two articles I wanted to share this month. The first, from Popular Science, discusses how some of the larger rural/garden cemeteries are expanding their horticultural programs to study the effects of climate change and develop the cemetery grounds into a more adaptive and resilient environment. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston is the focus:

To cope, Mount Auburn has turned a pond into a grand experiment in flood water retention, digging deeper trenches to accommodate regular torrents. It’s reintroduced native species, including the American toad, great tree frog, the spring peeper, and the Eastern red backed salamander. And a climate action plan will guide further efforts to make plants more resilient to weather extremes.

Their program in phenology - the observation and study of "nature's calender" - is particularly interesting. Scientists and volunteers collect all kinds of data associated with how the natural world is changing, developing, and responding each year. Information like the first sighting of a fox, bird arrivals and departures, the various flowering dates of plants and when the leaves start to fall on different tree species all contribute to an accurate picture of the behavior of an ecosystem that can be compared with notes throughout history. 

The second story is actually from an Australian publication about how the funeral industry there is responding to obesity. Over the past several years we have seen first-hand the impact that obesity is having on mausoleum conditions. In the U.S. death care industry, for example, we have also seen an increase in crypt sizes and casket dimensions. The piece covers the expected changes - larger casket sizes, wider crematory openings, grave sizes, and crypt spaces - but goes further to discuss the equipment and worker safety side of the issue as well, and advocates for more open communication between the health and funeral sectors.

Hope everyone is enjoying fall! Glad to be back and look out for next month's post.