April 17: Over at BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh writes of the ash cloud spreading from the erupting Icelandic volcano across Europe and, undoubtedly beyond, in terms of a science-fiction scenario come true. He is certainly right about that, and it does not take much imagination to realize, as the volcano continues to erupt and the ash cloud continues to expand, that more of Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa might be affected. Air travel will shut down, no one can say for how long, and with it the vital movement of people and goods. This is more than an inconvenience. After only three days it is already a disaster for travelers from all parts of the globe, their families, their businesses, and for airlines and the recovering European economy. Worse yet, it is another blow to human pride—following on the spate of recent earthquakes—and our sense of control, if not over nature, exactly, then at least over our own affairs. The ash cloud shows us how fragile our technological systems are, and therefore our present civilization, particularly when confronted by nature’s altogether natural convulsions.

We cannot stop the volcano’s eruption, or the resulting ash cloud, its expansion or devastating effects. We can only hope that it will all pass soon—which it may or may not—and we can get back to normal. Perhaps, this situation tells us, we should also be rethinking our idea of the normal. Who can say whether our increasing global dependency on technologies that are increasingly vulnerable to nature’s inevitable transformations will not become the new normal. If that is to be the case, then we had better consider a radically new relationship to them.

(below) Graphics from the New York Times article, April 17:

updated April 18, and London Times article, dated April 18:

latest report on CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/04/18/volcano.ash.test.flights/index.html?hpt=T1

Updated, April 19. What these maps are not showing is the ash cloud spread across the Atlantic or into Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia:

Updated, April 20. The erupting volcano is more active today, adding fresh concentrations to the ash cloud.

What we are not hearing about in the mainstream media is the extent of fallout of ash and other particles from the apparently thinning cloud.

An article on the human and economic impact in Kenya: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/world/africa/20kenya.html?hp


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