Monday, April 19, 2010

Ashes To Ashes

Armageddon strikes from an unexpected quarter, was my first thought, as I read that people in England face shortages of grapes, baby corn and asparagus as the Icelandic volcanic eruption gathers steam, so to speak. This eruption at Eyjafjallajokull (ay-yah-FYAH'-plah-yer-kuh-duhl) volcano on the southern shore of Iceland is full of cataclysmic overtones which have not yet made themselves heard publicly. I wondered if perhaps the cloud of high flying volcanic ash will have to start smothering US airports and cities before the preachers come out waving the white flag of surrender to the forces of evil. Europeans are rather more pragmatic and are now wondering if they can fly their airliners anyway, above or below the ash, to ease the endless disruption of travel.

There is a delicious irony in that Iceland is the source of all the trouble. Icelanders built up a couple of their banks into impossibly sized lenders before the economic crash of 2008 and when they went out of business they took the high interest savings of millions of Dutch and British small time investors with them. Britain and Holland reimbursed their citizens for their losses and decided to demand reimbursement from little Iceland in turn. Citizens there held a quick revolution, booed and hissed at their leaders long enough to force a change and voted decisively not to repay the foreign governments for their losses. Now the unpronounceable volcano is backing up the referendum with ash.

Reporters have delighted in pointing out that historically large ash vents have had a hand in shaping the course of human events. Krakatoa in Indonesia was a huge 19th century damper on weather patterns for 5 years after the 1883 eruption. Mount Tambor also in Indonesia did the same in 1815, sending ash and sulphuric acid rolling around the world to horrid effect, eliminating summer completely in 1816. Some historians suggest the French Revolution was precipitated by starvation caused by inclement weather thanks to volcanic activity, and the Minoans of Crete are believed to have been eliminated suddenly and completely by the eruption and self destruction of Santorini. The list goes on, Mont Pelee in the Caribbean, Vesuvius in Italy and Etna in Sicily, not mention lava flows in Hawaii are a few of the better known eruptions but this latest effort from Iceland is giving us a 21st century taste of the power of Nature.Mt Pinatubo's 1991 eruption in the Phillipines was apparently three times as powerful as Iceland's, according to the Christian Science Monitor, but that eruptions failed to cause significant problems to white people in Europe and the Americas so it was greeted with a bit of a shrug by our nationalistic press .

This fresh one comes at a delicate time in human history as we all struggle with huge debts, shortage of credit (which means an absence of trust among ourselves) and rising political tensions in Israel and Iran, as those two countries trade insults and nuclear powered threats at each other. Europe can't seem to catch a break. I recall when Chernobyl blew up in that appalling nuclear disaster Europeans caught the brunt of the fall out (after thousands of Ukrainians and Russians bought the farm or enjoyed horrible mutilations) and we in the US looked across the water and enjoyed the distance from those troubles over there.

And who, if anyone, predicted more trouble from Iceland? What if a shortage of asparagus isn't the worst ill to beset the Europeans as the big bad plume of black ash continues to rise above thew Atlantic? Whatever next from which unexpected quarter?

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