The eruption from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull has, in an extraordinary way, highlighted the interconnectedness, and interdependency of our globalized world. For many of us this has consequences – we miss a flight somewhere and find ourselves spatially displaced, or – like myself, we worry about a flight we depend on in a few days. On a personal level this might be stressful and cause for concern, but the eruption has also highlighted larger issues. Through the mainstream media we have learned about the colossal losses in the aviation industry, and insurance companies throughout Europe have their hands full (on the up-side, CO2-emmissions are down)
However, the incident has also highlighted the vulnerability of highly specialized emerging businesses solely reliant on export. A Norwegian article which caught me somewhat by surprise declared nothing less than an ash-catastrophe for African farmers. Surely a tabloid spin, I though, without realizing that countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia are all highly dependent on their export of roses to the European market – in fact, 13 percent of the Kenyan population is directly or indirectly involved in flower-production, and export of roses and related products make up roughly 20% of the country’s economy. For now Kenyan farmers have laid off around 5000 workers, and more will most likely follow if the crisis continues. Many companies are now reported to be dumping both roses and vegetables, originally destined for European shelves.
For me the incident represents a fundamental lesson which I think might be valuable in the broader development discussion, as well as in discussions about climate change and related issues. This lesson is that change, in terms of rapid shifts from one state to another is an amazingly difficult task. In this case we were suddenly forced to drastically change the flow of people and materials in the world, something which in a few days have affected an infinite number of small and large aspects of our lives, in most corners of the world. In terms of climate change, it should be noted that these types of changes are ultimately what will be needed, which again highlights a rather desperate need for some sort of planning, on so many levels. I’m not sure whether the current neo-liberal dominance in so many policy-areas (at least in much of Europe) is equipped to handle this type of responsibility.
Do we really see current policymakers making the types of positive changes sparked by the volcano, while finding (and implementing!) feasible solutions to the countless related problems?