I’ve been reflecting on the environmental and wider impacts of the currently erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland.  As of Sunday evening, the European aviation agency Eurocontrol reports than more than 63,000 flights to and from European airspace have been cancelled.  According to some calculations on Information is Beautiful the impact of this disruption, which has grounded some 60% of Europe’s daily flights, is a saving of around 200,000 tons of CO2 per day or just under 2 percent of Europe’s daily CO2 emissions. On the negative side, Eyjafjallajökull is of course spewing out CO2 although there is some dispute as to how much.   Information is Beautiful argue about 15,000 tons per day, Greenwisebusiness.com quote about 7,500 tons per day.  Either way this is a small fraction of that not coming from the grounded airliners. While this clearly isn’t the full picture as many stranded passengers have been heading onto the trains, roads and ferries of Europe to attempt to complete their journeys, it seems likely that in pure CO2 terms the Icelandic volcano will reduce the absolute amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere if only for a short while. The full implications of the volcano are however much wider and may well have longer lasting effects. The human cost of the disruption, however, is already evident with numerous stories in the press over the weekend.  ABTA estimate that 150,000 people are stuck abroad (including not an insignificant number of Capgemini people).  For some the disruption has provided an opportunity – I had a text from a friend this morning reflecting that being stuck in Australia for an extra ten days with friends has its benefits.  For others sleeping on airport floors or for those with pressing commitments at home the enforced waiting is far from a benefit. From a business perspective, IATA report that the aviation industry losing at least $200 million every day and the NY Times report that the cost to the UK economy alone could be £1 billion.  The Guardian on Friday speculated that UK supermarkets could soon be running short of exotic fruit and vegetables usually flown in from around the world.  Flows of international post and parcels are also being frustrated; the Bermuda Post Office has announced that its UK destined post is stuck in Toronto while the Royal Mail is now shipping US bound mail via Spain. Clearly all this disruption will require many businesses to rethink the way they operate whether in terms of their supply chain logistics or the mobility of their executives.  Perhaps this will be the event which finally increases the attractiveness of video conferencing!  As someone asked me this morning, “how attractive really is that three hour meeting in Berlin if you’re stuck for days afterwards?” And coming back to CO2, as climate change is predicted to bring with it more extreme weather events (although clearly not volcanoes!) which could periodically disrupt the global economic system in ways similar to our current European predicament, we will perhaps need to get use to a future with less certain travel around the planet.  Perhaps in this respect Eyjafjallajökull is giving us a foretaste of what is to come. 19th April 2010