We all know the ongoing volcanic eruption in Iceland has been hugely disruptive to European air travel. But how is it affecting the air those airplanes travel through?
In terms of greenhouse gas, the difference is dramatic. Gizmodo.com reported that, at the height of the eruption, the volcano was emitting less than eight percent of the CO2 regularly pumped into the sky by all the planes that were grounded. That enormous, spreading plume of ash actually cut greenhouse gases over Europe by more than 200,000 tons — a day.
“This just shows how polluting the air industry really is,” says Joel Willans, an author, blogger and professional traveler. “Thanks to the explosion of cheap airlines in Europe, people jump on planes as if they were catching a bus. Cheap airline tickets really do cost the Earth.”
With Clean Air Day coming up on Wednesday, Willans has some intriguing observations on the future of commercial aviation.
“The idea that we can’t live without air travel strikes me as bizarre when you think that commercial air travel is only about 70 years old,” he argues. “There are loads of alternative methods of getting around and an increasing number of websites catering for people who are up for flightless travel.”
Willans wrote a piece called “Five travel sites for the next time the ash hits the fan” for his blog at ovimapsexplorer.com. For travellers willing to sacrifice the speed of air travel, some intriguing possibilities await.
“I think people are rediscovering the joys of slow travel. Train, bus and boat bookings have increased and more, and more people are holidaying in their own country. Human beings are incredibly adaptive. I spoke to lots of people in London who said how much they enjoyed the disruption, as skies were so wonderfully quiet.”
For Willans, travel is as much about the journey as the destination.
“In my experience, the more challenging it is to get from one place to another, the more memorable is the holiday,” he notes. “You get a far better sense of a place travelling through it, rather than 30,000 feet above it.”
Willans concludes that the Iceland eruption’s deeper message is a hard one to ignore.
“For our entire technological prowess, this one volcano managed to bring the whole of European airspace to a complete standstill. I think natural events like this are useful reminders that we’re merely inhabitants of this planet and not its owners.”