Eyjafjallajökull is Showing us Something

Wow. The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland and the resulting ashcloud has had an effect that I would never ever have expected. A near-total closing down of the European airspace is such a drastic thing to happen to nobody seems to have expected. It has certainly not been included in the list of worst-case scenarios to plan for in company and government contingency plans. Where does this leave us? In a very interesting situation indeed. Worst-case, we will have to do without air travel for months.

This volcanic eruption certainly is providing a test for how the world would work if air travel became much less affordavble. I really do think it is absurd that we expect to be able to physically move anything and anyone to anywhere on globe in short time and at low cost. This party cannot go on forever, as oil starts to run out and the airline industry starts to have to pay for their carbon emissions. The energy usage needed to move people like that is just a bit too high to be sustainable, even if we make planes run on biofuels. I sometimes feel like I am living in a golden age that will soon end, and that my grandchildren will not have the same easy reach across the world. Maybe we should take the soonest chance available to go on vacation in Asia… it might not be feasible in a few decades.

Anyhow, suddenly, we are thrown into a world of no flights by a natural disaster. And sure enough, things get chaotic. In particular for those stuck far away from home with few easy ways to get back. Buses and trains become very attractive, all of a sudden. But their limitations also become clear, in that getting from southern Europe back up to Scandinavia now takes 40 hours instead of 4…

The impact on business is really interesting. The normal mode of operation of having people flying around to do sales and have important meetings is suddenly made impossible. Instead, we have to turn to the phone and videoconferencing. Incredibly good for the environment, and hopefully something of that will stick. It also shows how dependent we are on fragile supply chains, that our modern economy is often efficient at the cost of robustness.

This is a rich subject for reflection — how would you live your life if airtravel did not exist? How would business be run? One clear conclusion is that it would make sense to have lots of small offices to keep sales and support staff close to customers, and that local organizations would have to be more independent of the center as the center could not come visiting as often.

If you combine this experience with the past Winter’s train chaos, you cannot but reach the conclusion that the way to plan your life is to keep it physically very local. If you can get everywhere you need to in everyday life on foot, you have a very robust personal solution. Obviously, in a modern economy, you are still dependent on goods deliveries to work over long distances — but those are less timing sensitive  than getting to and from work and pick-up at daycare (the main concern for modern parents).

Guess this years vacation will be planned based on trains and cars, not on flying 🙂

One thought on “Eyjafjallajökull is Showing us Something”

  1. With some luck, it will be a boost and incentive for the phone and video conferencing equipment makers. Not that I’m an expert in the area, but so far I’ve found most phone conferencing equipment clumsy with bad noise problems etc. A system which gives a “natural” conference feeling could be really, really successful – especially when something like this happens.

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