I have been meaning to write about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (a word I never thought I would write) for a while but my day job got in the way. The Boston Globe has a great set of photos from Iceland (they should have done a slideshow but the images are still damn impressive).
The disruption highlighted how we take flying for granted and unknowingly depend on airplanes for our everyday lives to function : there were stories in the British press that supermarkets would run out of fresh fruit and vegetables because they could not get deliveries from overseas. It is hard to believe that the Wright Brothers only completed the first controlled, powered flight in December 1903 and that the first commercial jet service only started in 1952.
Although it is too late for my brother, who was forced to cancel his holiday, planes have thankfully started flying in Europe again.
While they were still grounded, philosopher Alain de Botton wrote a lovely piece imagining a world without planes:
“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.”
This may not be very far-fetched as Reihan Salam explains that dozens of major airlines are likely go bankrupt over the next decade so we have just experienced the world to come .
Salam points to a book by Christopher Steiner, $20 Per Gallon, which imagines how the world will change if oil prices continually rise. Starting at $4 a gallon, each chapter of the book describes what could happen as oil price rises by $2. Chapter $8 is called The Sky Will Empty as the airline industry is destroyed :
“Steiner paints a vivid picture: Cross-country fares quintupling in price, mid-sized cities losing most or all of their flights as subsidies dry up and the remaining airlines consolidate their operations. We’ll always have Skype and as-yet-unimagined communications technologies to stay in touch over long distances. And who knows, perhaps these technologies will be good enough to maintain the intimate connections that cheap air-travel has made possible. I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.’
Neither would I.