This volcano in Iceland erupted, sending tons of smoke, steam and tiny particles into the air, which has paralyzed air travel in Europe for days. Almost two-thirds of all transatlantic flights into European airports were cancelled and authorities shut down airspace over France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Slovakia, Croatia and Hungary. As the cloud moved east, flights were halted at Frankfurt, Europe's third-busiest airport, and at 10 other German airports.
There are expected to be few if any flights in the UK and western Europe over the weekend, "placing yet more strain on road, rail and ferry networks already struggling to cope with thousands of stranded passengers." The ripple effect is being felt in the U.S., causing delays and cancelled flights. European airlines are losing billions. And there is still some danger of new eruptions--perhaps even of a larger volcano nearby, which historically erupts soon after the current one does.
Update: A NY Times story on the volcano effects, calculating the problems and speculating on what happens if it goes on for weeks rather than days.
Update2: The volcanic ash over Europe has forced President Obama to cancel his planned trip to Poland to attend the funeral of the president of Poland, killed in an air crash along with his wife and many senior members of the Polish government.
All of this is an object lesson in systematic vulnerability: the vulnerability of interconnected vital systems to the cascading effects of relatively small disruptions. Given the likelihood that "natural disasters" like storms, floods and droughts are going to increase as the Climate Crisis phases into Climate Cataclysm, responsible parties--namely governments--need to be looking into these fragile systems we've come to depend on so completely, in so short a time.
Those who are thinking about dealing with such problems in the future--intense and local ones, but eventually several simultaneously--talk a lot about "resilience." But our infrastructures are not resilient. If they aren't too old, they are too new and without sufficient redundancy. And there is shrinking capacity in secondary systems to use as alternatives if the main systems fail.
Europe is actually in better shape that we are to cope with a crisis like this--they have a better rail system, in terms of capacity and reach, and also in speed: they have more high speed trains and routes than we even currently dream of. If air travel is curtailed for longer than a few days, they are in better position to cope.
This is an issue beyond climate-related emergencies. What happens if for some reason the Internet goes down, or communication with GPS satellites? At least we know our electrical grids are dangerously old and fragile, even if we haven't done much about it.
Through climate data, we are learning how vulnerable our planet is to certain changes (especially in the atmosphere), as resilient as it otherwise is. What will it take to convince us how vulnerable this civilization has become, when our food and even our water comes from far away? When our livelihoods, our economies depend on interconnected energy, transportation and information systems? Put these two areas of vulnerability together--in a crash in the ocean food chain, or the disappearance of honey bees--and face just how fragile this is, the life we take stupidly for granted. And maybe pay attention to doing something about it, before it becomes way too obvious.