The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland began erupting a few weeks ago, but a combination of factors is now wreaking havoc on European air-travel. The interaction of the molten lava with an ice-sheet 100m thick is sending a thick plume of "ash" high into the atmosphere, which is being driven to the south-east by unusual winds and has caused the grounding of all flights in the U.K. and most flights across Europe. Ryanair has suspended all flights until 13.00 on Monday, which concerns me as I am scheduled to fly to Bratislava by Ryanair on Wednesday for a small lecture tour in Slovakia and it is debatable whether all will be resolved by then.
It is what insurance companies used to call an "act of God" and we are held at the behest of the weather conditions. The volcano last erupted 200 years ago, but continued to do so for more than a year. Now in the jet-age, the risk of ash (in reality finely divided volcanic rock) being drawn into the engines of an aircraft pose the real threat of taking-out all four engines within minutes. The engine itself will be trashed by the glass produced by fusion and subsequent solidification of the ash, and the fuel-flame extinguished, thus risking aircraft literally falling from the sky should they fly through the ash-cloud.
Consequently, the inhabitants of villages and parts of London under the Heathrow flight-path can hear the birds singing on these beautiful spring days, not obscured by the cacophony of planes overhead, in a foretaste of life in the post jet-age era which will come when there is insufficient fuel to put into planes. It seems bizarre to talk of building a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow and treble the number of flights by 2020, when the world is at the tipping-point of oil production, and rising demand, and all evidence is that perpetual growth is a fallacy and we are probably witnesses to the end of Capitalism.
Without cheap, plentiful oil the world will have trouble producing enough food to sustain its burgeoning population, and plane-travel will be the least of our concerns. I will probably get to Slovakia all right, but meanwhile it is worth contemplating how we might manage in the post-oil, post global-transport era.