The Icelandic Volcano Speaks

This piece first appeared on Counterpunch.

In my youth I lived on the island of Oahu for a dozen years. It is still my spiritual home and I get back periodically. The Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes on Hawai’i (the “Big Island” 200 miles to the south) have been erupting periodically since 1984, adding acreage to the island. This is normal, it’s just how Polynesian islands grow. It’s beautiful to watch, from a boat offshore, the flood of red lava down to the sea. But the expulsion of water vapor, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and various other acid and inert gases into the atmosphere can be annoying.

In Hawai’i it’s called “vog” (volcanic fog). When I was last home (in January) the sky over Oahu was heavy with it. Kilauea had been belching out this stuff for quite awhile now, the vog damaging island ginger and tibucinia plants, reducing driving visibility, exacerbating asthmatics’ conditions. But there was a major new emission while I was there, darkening the sky so far north. Usually the sky is so blue, just like the postcards show it. But it was gloomily grey through much of my visit, cutting down on my beach-time.

I think of that visit while reading of the impact of the Icelandic volcanic eruption on my fellow human beings.

Isn’t it remarkable that something so random and unpredictable as a volcanic eruption in the North Atlantic can shut down air traffic throughout much of the world? Planes can’t fly because ash particles accumulating in jet engines could clog them with molten glass. (That’s a more sobering thought than that of having a shoe-bomber sitting behind you.) Those sitting around in airports around the world just have to realize that the sky itself won’t let them fly right now. There’s no reason to be miffed at the person at the airline counter. It’s the volcano under the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier causing this problem.

While there’s been a lot of dramatic seismic news in recent years, it doesn’t appear there’s any particular quickening of activity. The December 2004 earthquake off Sumatra produced a tsunami that killed 225,000 and there’ve been lots of earthquakes in or around Indonesia since. But nothing as dramatic as the eruption of Krakatau in 1883 that killed about 38,000 and disrupted global weather patterns for about five years. The rash of earthquakes in Chile, China, Japan and elsewhere are not abnormal. (Those citing Biblical prophecy about such incidents signaling the End Times could have done so at any random point in the past.)

So everything’s normal and fine. As Shakespeare once put it:

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