Contemplating the volcano-induced disruption in European air travel, The Economist concluded that it had such a small economic impact as to be unmeasurable. Business meetings that people thought were super important were just as successfully held over the phone, and domestic hotels and restaurants gained business from those further afield.
One way of thinking about this is to say that it demonstrates how frivolous most air travel is. The article claims that “globalisation is far more about ships than about planes” and, aside from the potential of a lengthy air travel hiatus to disrupt certain segments of some supply chains, the temporary suspension of air travel has a limited effect.
It would be fine for air travel to be frivolous if it was otherwise benign. Unfortunately, long trips via plane produce unacceptable quantities of greenhouse gases. Giving up long-distance travel is one of the single most effective voluntary steps most people can take to reduce how much harm they are doing to future generations, via greenhouse gases and climate change. Surely, their right to live on a planet that has a stable climate compatible with human flourishing trumps the right of those alive today to spend the weekend in Helsinki or enjoy a quick winter jaunt to Spanish beaches.