Posted by: scintillatingspeck | April 18, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull.

Yeah.  You heard me right.  Eyjafjallajokull.  Go on, say it.  It’s a volcano in Iceland that is currently erupting.

(photo credit: Vilhelm Gunnersson, via European Pressphoto Agency; original here)

So, um, what the heck does Eyjafjallajokull have to do with me?  Other than having traveled to Iceland about 15 years ago (and been very impressed with its astounding natural beauty) and having a gigantic (sadly unrequited) crush on an Icelandic guy when I was in high school, should I be giving this volcanic eruption anything other than a passing thought?

It turns out that Eyjafjallajokull is seriously affecting my short-term plans, as well as those of thousands and perhaps eventually millions of people.

If you are monitoring the news (and I know that at least some of my readers do not, by choice), you have probably heard by now that this awesome manifestation of Mother Earth’s power has created a cloud of ash that has covered most of Europe.

Lily and I were supposed to travel to Italy on Tuesday.  Much of the weekend has been spent scrambling to change those plans.  After a great deal of effort, we seem to have changed our travel dates to April 30 through May 17, although we seem to have been charged an extra $900 that we need to have refunded (the Continental website said we could make changes for free).  Since Continental is no longer accepting phone calls due to the chaos, we’re not sure when this will be resolved.  We’re also not sure if we’ll be able to travel at all.  Can you imagine the madness in airports across Europe, and any airport worldwide that flies into Europe?  Can you imagine the frustration of all those stranded passengers?  Can you imagine the airlines freaking out as they lose hundreds of millions of dollars per day, and dealing with a monstrous wave of rebookings?  I am a tiny bit comforted by the fact that at least I’m not stranded far from home with a fussy 3-year-old right now.

Meanwhile, Eyjafjallajokull continues to spew ash into the air.

There is the piddly matter of how this eruption affects me personally.  I do recognize that this is very insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  I am very concerned about how this is going to affect health, access to food, climate, and the world economy.  First, there is the small matter that a lot of this ash cloud is composed of microscopic glass particles which don’t seem very healthy to inhale, and the ash is falling on the northern UK (although it seems to be floating well above land at the moment in other locations across Europe).  Then there is the issue of Europe importing by air freight a large percentage of its fruits and vegetables, and perishable foods languishing in warehouses while air travel is stopped.  The New York Times, not a publication I generally think of for sounding timely alarms on important topics, has specifically named the concern of supermarkets running out of food.  Now combine this with a global economy that teeters on collapse, bound together by a rigged, fraud-infected financial system and an energy system facing serious, immediate threats to supply meeting demand– take that system and give it a big shove with a force of nature that affects all of Europe.

Folks, I think we will be finding out very soon just how much Eyjafjallajokull needs to speak to all of us, with a tongue of fire.

Now, I accept that some people may dismiss as a “doomer.”  Whatever.  Bring it on.  What difference does it make to call me a doomer if events have already been set in motion?  Not just the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, but the whole sorry mess of the global economy, the addiction to fossil fuels, the civilization based on dominance, competition, oppression and corruption?  The alienation of humans from the land and other species?  The alienation of humans from one another?  I ask you, if you choose to remain willfully blind to these events, if you choose to cope by marginalizing others through facile name-calling, what good will that do you when it’s time to pay the piper?

My family of origin and extended family lives in Europe.  My sister, her husband, and their four beautiful children live in Berlin.  My parents live in Bologna as well as my extended Italian clan.  They may not end up buried in ash, but I fear for their safety, along with millions of others.  We have yet to see what the ripple effects will be.  I will continue to hope that people will wake up in ever greater numbers and work towards the resilience of the community of life.

Looking at the silver lining: I read something in a news report online about an anti-Heathrow-expansion activist who was commenting on the exquisite peace and quiet that he was experiencing without a plane flying overhead every 60 seconds.  So there’s a quite a bit less noise pollution in the world, not to mention a decrease in carbon emissions over the last few days.  I believe it was found out that the grounding of planes after 9/11 caused enough of a decrease in emissions to affect the climate somewhat; this event may prove to be similar.  Also, there has been some disruption of military flights into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  I don’t want injured US soldiers to have their medical treatment delayed (they’re currently being flown directly to the US instead of Germany), but on the whole, anything that interrupts violence and the waging of war is something I can support.  In addition, millions of people may be awakening to the fact that we are dangerously dependent on air travel, and that we had better start making alternate plans.

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Responses

  1. You nail it with this post quite beautifully. Being stranded in England, I can see the incredible parallels between the volcanic disruption and those that will be caused in the not-so-distant future by projected oil shortages.

    Already, there is talk about stocking up…if this drags on another 72 hours, the hoarding will begin – I’ll bet money on it right here and now, publicly. While it looks like this won’t happen (things seem to be clearing up), one huge burst from the volcano will change things for the worse.

    The skies are clear and blue and the birds are singing…and people are NOTICING the change. Especially those in London. I’d LOVE to see someone take a camera around and document this through informal interviews. Talk about ammunition for the runway opponents.

    In the meantime, if anyone is in trouble, I’ve founded a FB group that is networking the displaced. Search for it at “When Volcanoes Erupt: A Survival Guide for Stranded Travelers”. Nearly 500 of us are in there trading stories, bumming rides.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Tod Brilliant
    (PCI)

  2. Tod, I hope you become un-stranded ASAP! Thanks for the glimpse into what’s happening in England, and for the tip about the Facebook group you started… I’m going to check it out now. It’s so interesting to observe how people respond to these sorts of circumstances.

  3. Oh my goodness, Tod… I’m just seeing now in a USA Today article (http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/item.aspx?type=blog&ak=88418.blog) that you are stranded with your wife who is 31 weeks pregnant! And I’m also seeing that there are some locals taking care of you, which is wonderful. You and your wife are in my thoughts!


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