Volcanoes, Airlines, and Poetic Injustice


Schadenfreude isn’t anything to be particularly proud of, I suppose, but it’s hard not to look with bemused satisfaction at the quiet ash-filled skies above Europe.

Every time a volcano erupts I think: “Well what did you expect? Mother Nature is bound to vomit now and then, given the way we keep house.”

The problem is that She doesn’t really think about us.

For example, The New York Times reports today on the jet-loads of money the airline industry is losing right now due to all the flights grounded by an Icelandic volcano with an inscrutable name.

How much money?

One billion dollars so far, $80 million for US carriers.

“‘It is clear that this is not sustainable,’ the European Union’s transport commissioner, Siim Kallas, told reporters in Brussels. ‘We cannot just wait until this ash cloud dissipates.’”

Someday we should have a serious talk about what is and what is not sustainable in the airline industry, which (as the article reports) suffered first from 9/11, then from SARS, then from the 2008 oil-price spike, and now from a goddamned volcano impertinent enough to erupt.

Don’t terrorists, diseases, and natural limits know we’re trying to “grow” an economy here?

This is a job for the Byronic Man.

Lord Byron, that is, who in his grim poem, “Darkness” (1816), did a little thought experiment after Mount Tambora, a volcano in the East Indies, puked enough ash into the sky to wipe from the calendar an entire summer.

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