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International Institute for Environment and Development
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Dark Matter

Like the looming kraken emerging from a murky underworld, the ash cloud has now returned to hunt European skies once more. Flights have again been grounded, airports are in disarray, and political parties have been forced into drafting strategies on how to protect their airspace from a clump of dust participles. The ash cloud has cost the airline industry over 1.1 billion euros.

Whilst my thoughts go out to any traveller being held hostage in airports in and around Europe, I can't help but respect and admire this bedevilled cloud of ash. After-all, it has achieved more in a few weeks in terms of reducing carbon emissions than over two years of negotiations and 40,000 participants of the Copenhagen conference managed to achieve. It has also forced travellers to consider alternative methods of transport and compelled the airline industry to make a comparatively miniscule financial contribution for the carbon that they emit on a daily basis.

However, when coupled with the news of the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that continues to spew up to 70,000 barrels of oil a day into our oceans, I can't help but wonder if there is a greater significance to recent events. Whether it is the guts of a volcano shedding grey ash over Europe or of murky crude oil being leaked out from underneath the oceans floor, it certainly feels as if the globe is registering its dissatisfaction. In the days before satellite images or knowledge of plate tectonics, a volcanic eruption of this magnitude would have been interpreted as the rumblings of a discontented God, and of a world that was out of sync. When surveying our maltreatment of our natural resources, I can't help but wonder if there is indeed something rotten in the state of our Earth. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment shows that human actions have already led to irreversible losses of biodiversity; the rainforests that once covered 14% of the earth's land surface have now been reduced to 6% and experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could be consumed in less than 40 years; and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 290 (ppm - parts per million) in 1900 to nearly 400 ppm and yet we are still struggling to come to any consensus on how to slow global emissions.

If the spewing volcano is the Earth's way of displaying its discontent, then I suggest we listen up and take heed. Eyjafjoell, I salute you and your ash.

 

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