As news comes out on Friday evening that there will be no flights in and out of UK and most of Europe until at least Monday I can’t help but titter to myself a little bit. Why? Because this act of nature has done what no amount of climate activism has managed to successfully do: prevent a huge amount of CO2 from being emitted. In one single stroke. It has also thrown the aviation industry, business and holiday makers into utter disarray. And there is absolutely NOTHING we can do about it.
In the past few days the explosion of the wonderfully named Eyjafjallajökull volcano has caught us totally unaware and unable to cope. The news headlines trumpet stories of the worst crisis to face aviation since World War Two and “the worst travel chaos since 9/11“, but the fact is that we in the west – with all our fancy infrastructure and semblance of control over just about everything in this world – have no idea what to do about this spontaneous outpouring of ash. We’ve got used to the idea that it is our inalienable right to dash frantically across the globe at the swipe of a credit card, but this event has proved that it isn’t. Not if something completely outside of our control happens. It is forcing people to reconsider how they must travel: the ferries, trains and buses have never been so busy. See! It is possible (especially for short distances) to travel across land. My feeling is that if we were meant to fly then we would have evolved with wings. It’s just not quite right, and we need to reconsider the ease with which we board an aircraft. Maybe we should move at a slower pace after all.
Yes, of course lots of people are suffering and distressed, stuck somewhere, missing important occasions. But the truth is that life goes on and many of those people will band together in the spirit of the Blitz. They will help each other out and make new friends. It is not the end of the world, but instead time for a reminder of how we might re-imagine it. And that is something we desperately need to do, for we cannot keep putting planes in the sky and just hope for the best. The blithely exploding Icelandic volcano is a salient reminder of the fragility of our carefully crafted control. At the end of the day we are at the mercy of the elements, and we can’t always beat them, but instead we must adapt and live with them – humbly. The day after the Great Leader’s Debate Eyjafjallajökull offers a salutary sign of our place in the universe. Our politicians can talk about electoral policies all they want but there are some things over which they have no power.
This morning as I herd the news of the eruption and interviews with top volcano experts, who were grilled about whether they were being over cautious in their recommendations for planes to stay grounded. The Evening Standard tonight explained how the volcano “emits glass and rock particles that can cause planes to crash”. Only by putting the information in the most simple and understandable language can people grasp the enormity of the situation: Yes, it really would be a bad idea to put planes up there, even if you can’t actually see the ash yourself from your kitchen window. It seems so hard to believe that flying a plane could be beaten by something as simple and as old as the Mother Earth her self, but of course volcanos are what created the earth. And they aren’t going to stop exploding just to appease us.
There are other upsides. No one has a clue how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull but twitter is alive with the sound of the puntastic #ashtag. And what is my twitter feed full of? The sound of people admiring the clear blue skies up above – not an aeroplane contrail in sight. Before this happened I don’t think anyone had actually stopped to consider just how much our love affair with aviation has come to dominate our surroundings, especially in a big busy airspace like that above London. But now that the telltale pollution trails have vanished we all notice, blissfully.
As i walked into town, and the whole way I allso had my head tilted upwards, admiring the lack of contrails. It felt so… special, i was on my way to take images of Samuel Fox and Company: (under demolition) one year on.. I got back at three put those images on line and by 730 i was watching the sun set as i played Nick Drake Five Leaves Left watching a (Volcanic #Ash Sunset) over Redmires Sheffield if this is life with out plains then it is cool by me..
Abriged from ameliasmagazine
The philosopher, writer and recent writer-in-residence at Heathrow airport imagines a world without aircraft.
In a future world without aeroplanes, children would gather at the feet of old men, and hear extraordinary tales of a mythic time when vast and complicated machines the size of several houses used to take to the skies and fly high over the Himalayas and the Tasman Sea.
The wise elders would explain that inside the aircraft, passengers, who had only paid the price of a few books for the privilege, would impatiently and ungratefully shut their window blinds to the views, would sit in silence next to strangers while watching films about love and friendship – and would complain that the food in miniature plastic beakers before them was not quite as tasty as the sort they could prepare in their own kitchens.
The elders would add that the skies, now undisturbed except by the meandering progress of bees and sparrows, had once thundered to the sound of airborne leviathans, that entire swathes of Britain’s cities had been disturbed by their progress.
And that in an ancient London suburb once known as Fulham, it had been rare for the sensitive to be able to sleep much past six in the morning, due the unremitting progress of inbound aluminium tubes from Canada and the eastern seaboard of the United States.
At Heathrow, now turned into a museum, one would be able to walk unhurriedly across the two main runways and even give in to the temptation to sit cross-legged on their centrelines, a gesture with some of the same sublime thrill as touching a disconnected high-voltage electricity cable, running one’s fingers along the teeth of an anaesthetised shark or having a wash in a fallen dictator’s marble bathroom.
Everything would, of course, go very slowly. It would take two days to reach Rome, a month before one finally sailed exultantly into Sydney harbour. And yet there would be benefits tied up in this languor.
Those who had known the age of planes would recall the confusion they had felt upon arriving in Mumbai or Rio, Auckland or Montego Bay, only hours after leaving home, their slight sickness and bewilderment lending credence to the old Arabic saying that the soul invariably travels at the speed of a camel.
This new widespread ‘camel pace’ would return travellers to a wisdom that their medieval pilgrim ancestors had once known very well. These medieval pilgrims had gone out of their way to make travel as slow as possible, avoiding even the use of boats and horses in favour of their own feet.
They were not being perverse, only aware that if one of our key motives for travelling is to try to put the past behind us, then we often need something very large and time-consuming, like the experience of a month long journey across an ocean or a hike over a mountain range, to establish a sufficient sense of distance.
Whatever the advantages of plentiful and convenient air travel, we may curse it for being too easy, too unnoticeable – and thereby for subverting our sincere attempts at changing ourselves through our journeys.
How we would admire planes if they were no longer there to frighten and bore us. We would stroke their steel dolphin-like bodies in museums and honour them as symbols of a daunting technical intelligence and a prodigious wealth.
We would admire them like small boys do, and adults no longer dare, for fear of seeming uncynical and unvigilant towards their crimes against our world. Despite all the chaos and inconvenience of our disrupted flight schedules, we should feel grateful to the unruly Icelandic volcano – for allowing us briefly to imagine what a flight-less future would envy and pity us for.