Winter is a time of joy, outdoor fun, chilly evenings, hot beverages — and death. But in Australia, an unseasonably mild quarter has removed one of these attributes. Undertakers from all over the country are now voicing concerns that the warmest winter on record may have driven the funeral business into the ground.
''We've seen the biggest drop in business in a generation,'' said Andrew Smith, chief executive of InvoCare, the largest private cemetery, funeral, and crematorium provider in the Asia-Pacific region. ''Winter is usually our busiest time, but there's been no real flu season this year and no real cold snaps, and that's being reflected in a big drop in business.''
Warwick Hansen, a mortician from Wollongong, New South Wales, shares Smith’s concerns about the business. He’s been working in the field for almost half century, and had until this year never experienced such a torpid season. Virtually every aspect of the business is suffering, he says.
''It's probably the slowest winter I've ever seen,'' he told reporters from The Sydney Morning Herald. ''We've had a 10 to 15 per cent drop in the death rate. Talking to other people in the industry, suppliers and coffin makers, they are all saying they have been affected.''
According to Charmian Bennett of Australia’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, the tanking market is most likely the result of reduced interpersonal contact. At a time when people usually huddle indoors, the sunny weather has coaxed most Australians out of their homes. This restricts the rate at which diseases spread, and lowers the risk of contracting infectious winter killers like the flu.
Bennet added that that the poor statistics align with an emerging trend, in which climate-related deaths are slowly beginning to cluster around the summer months. Over the past 40 years, there has been a 15 percent shift from cold-related deaths to heat-related deaths. If this pattern continues, summer deaths could one day outweigh winter deaths, she said.