Weighing the Volcano's Global Impact

Trade halts, economies shudder, a new climate change threat is realized

This article is from the archive of our partner .

When the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted on Wednesday, few anticipated just how global the repercussions would be. Nearly a week later, the eruption's massive ash plume is still grounding much of the air travel in Europe. But the ongoing effects are not limited to air travel. European economies are suffering as a result, the sulfur dioxide permeating the air is becoming a serious health concern, global cooling remains a risk, and day-to-day governance must overcome the inability of many leaders to make key trips. Here's what's happening.

  • Economies Shudder Worldwide  The Washington Post reports, "airline officials blasted widespread closures that they said were overzealous and costing airlines 'at least $200 million a day.' ... Fears were mounting, in particular, about the consequences for the still-fragile economic recovery in Europe should the travel bans stretch on for weeks. ... The tentacles of the crisis have already stretched into the global supply chain. Auto factories in China that use electronic parts flown in from Germany faced a sudden halt in shipments. A logjam forming in the international diamond trade threatened to delay the shipment of necklaces and wedding rings if flights are not resumed between cutters in India and dealers in Antwerp, Belgium."
  • Climate Change Worsens Volcanic Threat  CleanTechnica's Susan Kraemer warns, "the next decades could see more volcanic activity in regions such as Iceland that are now under ice. Climate change could spark off more volcanic eruptions in the now frozen volcanic rim regions, Alaska, Patagonia and Antarctica and Iceland says Dr Carolina Pagli, at Leeds University; one of the authors of the research. As ice melts above volcanic rocks they are able to expand to turn into magma more readily as pressure from above is reduced."
  • Volcanoes vs. Humans on Greenhouse Gases  Wondering how much of an effect volcanoes have on climate change by their release of greenhouse gases? "The short answer is: none," writes TreeHugger's Pablo Paster. The planet's volcanoes put 200 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. But humans produced 28 trillion tons in 2006 alone. That means humans produce 140,000 times as much greenhouse gas as volcanoes.
  • Our Crippling Dependence on Airplanes  The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum muses, "we rely on air travel for far more things than we usually imagine. Things such as supermarkets -- all that fresh fruit -- and florists. Things such as symphony performances, professional soccer matches and international relations. In fact, 'European integration,' as we have come to understand it, turns out to be utterly dependent on reliable air travel. ... Skeptics who thought the European single market would never function because there would be no labor mobility in Europe have been proved wrong. But if, as some are predicting, European air travel were to become unreliable indefinitely all of this would change."
Had we taken steps already to redesign our economy according to the principles of sustainable development, the grounding of our air fleet would have been far easier to take. There would already be affordable, high-speed direct rail links between all major European cities. Businesses would be equipped with state-of-the-art videoconferencing facilities and making fuller use of the formidable communications and information resources of the internet. Aircraft would be more efficient. Airlines would be paying duty on fuel in the same way that car drivers do, changing the economics of travel in a way that favoured more sustainable alternatives. Citizens would be used to holidaying closer to home.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.