Thank you, Eyjafjallajökull

The volcano erupts. A cloud of ashes is spreading across Europe, airlines cancel their flights, it’s just too dangerous. The particles and ashes might damage the jet engines. Thousands of people try to get home by train, or just wait at the airports. The sky above citys is clear, it’s silent, you can hear the birds. No vapour trail in sight, no sound of starting plane engines, older people claim that they haven’t seen a sky this clean since their childhood. The power of the volcano and there is nothing you can do to change it, but let go.

Of course, when there are no planes, there are problems: people can’t get home, are stuck somewhere in cheap hostels, wait endlessly in line for some information of the airline or the airport, cargo can’t be sent, not your overseas mail nor first-aid-packages to e.g. Haiti, oh-so-important people can’t fly around the earth in business class to manage some…well, maybe hedge fonds, for who knows what exactly they are really doing? Fact is, these days a lot of people are losing a lot of money because no plane goes – no exception. The recession that we just got out of might strike again, with more people losing even more money – but wait – because of some stupid planes?

How did things work a few decades or even years ago, when there were no cheap airlines, no all-inclusive-holidays, when flying was so expensive that only some flights and only for the most important people of a company were available? I guess they didn’t. I remember that when I was a child we sometimes flew on holidays. To Greece or Turkey, once to Singapure and then on to Australia. I loved flying. It was fun, but most of all it way something special, real special. We didn’t fly for every singe holiday, only about once in every two years, sometimes once a year. The other times we drove by car (not very ecological as well) to the nearby Italian coast. I know the promenades of Grado, Bibione and stuff, and I loved it as well. There was nothing I missed, except for the nice, wild feel of a greek island, but hey, get over it. Last year I went to Coventry for a conference and took the plane from my small town to London Stansted. My colleague and I had booked quite early, the tickets where cheap, not those cheap 1-Euro-tickets, but still way cheaper than going by train. And way more comfortable. But I realized how things had changed, I think I haven’t taken a plane in 7 years. There were a lot of restrictions on you, like the liquid thing, you know what I’m talking about. And during the whole flight people tried to sell us something. It didn’t feel comfortable or exciting anymore. Flying was nothing special anymore, it was just another transportation thing. The McDonalds of transportation. And on days like these we realize how fast it could be over.

When I was on my exchange term in Italy, I talked to a lot of people, many of them already studying abroad or going home to wherever several times during their Erasmus. In half a year, I guess many of them took about 3 or 4 flights home or somewhere else. That’s quite a lot. It was great for them, flying is cheap and you get to see a lot of the world, but ecologically spoken, it was a catastrophe. For I always find it kind of confusing to know how much grams CO2 per person per kilometre a flight causes, I decided to calculate my CO2 emissions on the flight Klagenfurt-London Stansted and return for you. With this flight, I caused 660 kg CO2. To give you an idea: That’s what a fridge causes in 6,6 years of running. That’s a third of what a middle class car causes in a year. That’s more than two third of what a person with their lifestyle in India causes in a year. But it’s just 1/6 of what a flight (from middle Europe) to the Carribean causes. Flying causes almost ten times as much emission as going by train. I’m not suggesting not to take the plane at all – every now and then we just want to see parts of the world that otherwise couldn’t really be reached in a fair amount of time – but we should cut it down drastically, not just because it’s an ecological crime but because it’s possible. Just think of the managers mentioned before. Why can’t they just use skype? My guess is, it would work. There are other ways to communicate. Technology is here to help us, we only have to use it. Plus you don’t have to be anywhere anytime.  That’s why it worked a few decades ago, and that’s why it will work this week as well, and why it could work the next few years too, without us destroying the only earth that we’ve got. You can see it now, the air above Europe is clear, no plane in sight, and the world still keeps spinning round.

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