The Wasteland

Farmers in Iceland have lost everything and all Europeans can muster is “Why me?”

Opinion | David Reali | May 2010

Since the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, European travelers and businesses have been swept up in the mass hysteria naturally expected to follow the cancellation of thousands of flights (for almost a week) and the loss of nearly 150 million euros daily by airline companies worldwide.

The less frequently mentioned enterprises that rely on – rather than provide – these travel services are suffering just as badly. Israeli, African and Asian agricultural exports have endured great losses – in Kenya 400 tons of flowers were destroyed for lack of a viable means of transport to Europe. It seems that this natural catastrophe has only engendered fear of economic losses that have already or may yet result from this simple plume of ash – the same cloud that may develop into a Dante’s Inferno  for the inhabitants of Iceland.

Is capital the only real thing in our lives? And why did "expert" scientific opinion start suggesting that it was once again safe to fly just at the point when pressure from airline companies became most intense? Has anyone so much as paused to reflect on the eruption’s effect on Iceland? Or are their market losses too small to deserve any sympathy from the rest of the world? Why is it we’ve only heard about the unfortunate tourists who were stranded for a few extra days of forced vacation? Has anyone even heard a squeak about or from Iceland’s residents?

European news media are crying personal economic inconvenience but no one seems to have considered the negative effects that this event may have on Iceland. Nobody has even thought to stop and admire the deserted skies or entertain the idea that an entire week without air travel (in the busiest air space in the world) may actually have a positive effect on the environment.

Currently, the 317,000 Icelandic residents aren’t risking famine as international shipping will continue supply them with foreign produce. Nonetheless, approximately 800 people inhabiting areas in close proximity to the volcano have had to be evacuated, and roughly 14 major agricultural holdings have been abandoned. Farmers who haven’t been forced to leave have been encouraged to keep their livestock indoors and away from natural water supplies to avoid deadly fluoride poisoning – especially vulnerable are sheep.

The layer of ash that has fallen on some pastures has become wet and compact, destroying crops and making farming, harvesting, and grazing virtually impossible. Roads have been washed away by the initial floods and the potential eruption of a second Volcano, Katla, seems to be on everyone’s mind.

According to vulcanologists, in comparison to previous Icelandic eruptions Eyjafjallajökull is just blowing smoke. Historically speaking, however, it is possible that this steady expulsion of gases, ashes and magma could continue for months or even years.

The last time Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 1821, it remained active for an entire 13 months. Such a lengthy eruption would almost certainly yield catastrophic environmental and economic consequences. The real danger seems to be the possible awakening of the neighboring Katla, which may be triggered by the constant earthquakes – one  occurring approximately every 40 seconds.

In the past Katla was awoken almost every time it heard its little brother’s cries. For this reason, geologists and vulcanologists fear that if Eyjafjallajökull doesn’t quiet down, this becomes increasingly likely. Katla’s last event in 1918 was 10 times more powerful than the current one; an eruption of such magnitude would almost certainly result in very serious health consequences for the locals as well as surrounding nations. And lets not forget the planet.

So indulge in your extended business turned holiday-adventure and stop brooding, "Why me?" You could be ankle deep in ashes right now. Iceland may soon become a wasteland. So forgive me if your flight cancellation doesn’t break my heart.

Other articles from this issue