Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Planes, Ash and Politics

It makes all of us feel small and a little nervous, it has suddenly made the world seem a much larger place than it was last week, it has frustrated travellers and businesses in their hundreds of thousands - and there is NOTHING that can be done, it has caused whooper swans to sit it out in small huts and sheds instead of migrating and it is delighting those who live under runways or who love birdsong or who marvel at the sight of a blue sky with no white streaks.

For just a short while we are getting a glimpse of what a low carbon world will look, sound and feel like. We can't travel where we want when we want at any time. We can't assume fruits, flowers and vegetables will be flown in to stock the supermarket shelves and we will notice, just a little more, other life around us. Perhaps the recent surge in interest in grow-your-own will be very welcome if food stuffs really do have to be locally transported.

I feel truly sorry for those stuck in airports, or paying thousands just to get a taxi. It must be horrible. But once everyone is back where they want to be maybe we should all take time to think about this. Going to Barcelona for a weekend was so simple 2 weeks ago, very doable from Bristol. Now Barcelona, Teneriffe and Paris seem much further away and maybe we should think about short trips for pleasure and if they are really necessary. It takes SO many resources to get people around the world and it is so easy to take it for granted. But fuel for the planes, taxis, cars, buses etc to get people to places is not insignificant and it is very damaging.

The thought of fresh food being thrown away in Africa because the planes are grounded makes me weep - what kind of crazy world have we manufactured? Flowers flying from Kenya???!

Surely Kenyans can be better employed growing food for Africa - but every time I say that I feel it is so obvious there must be huge reasons I don't know about to make it not work. But if we had to pay for the sunshine, the warmth, the nutrients in the soil, the water and a true cost for fuel then they wouldn't be so cheap and it wouldn't be cost effective to fly them around the world. The earth provides resources for free - it is time we started counting the true cost of the way we organise our economies and our daily lives.

Here is a poem by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy:


Five miles up the hush and shush of ash,

Yet the sky is as clean as a white slate —

I could write my childhood there.

Selfish to sit in this garden, listening to the past

(A gentleman bee wooing its flower, a lawnmower)

When the grounded planes mean ruined plans,

Holidays on hold, sore absences at weddings, funerals ... wingless commerce.

But Britain’s birds sing in this spring

From Inverness to Liverpool, from Crieff to Cardiff,

Oxford, Londontown, Land’s End to John O’Groats.

The music’s silent summons,

That Shakespeare heard and Edward Thomas and, briefly, us.

Labour is the only party to commit to building a third runway at Heathrow.


  1. Interesting thoughts Mary - we live in such a consumer driven world where money is all. A lot of the trade that goes on does not seem to make any sense. But as a good friend of mine used to joke "don't complicate it with logic".

  2. Thanks very much for your comment, I hope somehow we can make the world a little more sane. Lovely pictures on your blog - Co Mayo is my favourite county in Ireland.