Thursday, April 22, 2010

"An Eruption of Unresilience"

On Planetizen, a blog about how the volcanic eruption in Iceland is requiring people to fall back on other forms of transportation, and do without goods the normally get via air transport.

Fortunately, Europe has a relatively advanced high-speed train network in several nations; were this eruption affecting North America, where rail service has been denuded dramatically over decades and new investments in high speed rail are only now being planned, the conditions would be more chaotic by several magnitudes.

While we have heard a great deal over the years about the need to diversify our transportation systems to reduce greenhouse gases and to prepare for peak oil, the Eyjafjallajokull eruption demonstrates that our present transportation monoculture is simply not sufficiently resilient even under normal conditions, for it is incapable of responding adequately to unexpected stressors. The lack of diversity and redundancy in our transportation infrastructure thereby threatens the stability of every other system that interacts with it, including food, business, tourism and the countless human needs dependent on it.  

The blogger, Michael Dudley, points out that if the volcano erupts for up to a year (which apparently it has in the past) it could make a dramatic difference in lifestyles and transportation patterns.

For their part, supporters of rail can also look at the eruption for something else: an alternative vision for urban and intercontinental life. With air traffic absent from the sky – and the harried business schedules it makes necessary – many people are finding that the eruption has yielded a silver lining. Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail finds that London has fallen “strangely, peacefully quiet” as the constant roar of jets has ceased, while others are rediscovering the wonders of leisure time, renewed friendships and unhurried urban sight-seeing. In the absence of exotic imported food, grocery chains are once again turning to British suppliers, demonstrating the need for viable regional agriculture. 

Since I don't have any current travel plans, I haven't been following the volcano very closely.  I did live in Portland, Oregon when Mount St. Helens erupted, and I remember the strange and dramatic events during those days - including hosing ash into the storm sewers and wearing surgical masks around in public.  However, the Eyjafjallajokull fallout is bigger, both literally and metaphorically.  Will we adapt? 

Jamie Baker Roskie

Globalism, Transportation | Permalink

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