IF IT wasn’t for the fact that already-impoverished farm workers in the developing world are paying the price of the volcanic disruption to European air travel, I – and many more people – would have quite enjoyed the last week or so.
For the first time I can ever recall, the skies were free from aeroplane trails and there was a sense the air quality was clearer and purer, unpolluted by kerosene and its by-products.
I’m not the only one who started wondering what the world would be like if we turned the clock back and got rid of air travel completely.
No more wrangling over new runways, no more complaints about hidden charges on budget airlines, no more 9/11 scenarios, no more air rage.
But, of course, it’s not that simple. Because whole communities in Africa and other cash-strapped places are now dependent on growing everything from roses to runner beans, so we can enjoy floral bouquets in the middle of January and blackberries from Mexico in March.
Perhaps some of us never realised just how much food is air-freighted. Tesco claims it only imports 1% of its fresh food supplies by air, but that’s 1% of a huge quantity, which is quite a lot.
Supermarkets also claim the negative carbon footprint of flying food is counterbalanced by what would be the energy-hungry ways of growing it closer to home in heated greenhouses, but I’d like to see some hard figures to believe that one.
So, putting a stop to air travel wouldn’t necessarily save the planet, but it means Britain would need to be self-sufficient in food once again. Which, in turn, means more people working in agriculture and fewer in financial services, IT and all those other non-food producing jobs.
And we’d miss being able to pop on a plane to Prague or Portugal, to go shopping in New York or Turkey.
How many jobs would disappear overnight if there was no tourism and no shopping? And would they all be happy being redeployed as serfs?
No, the infrastructure of the modern world is such that it would be extraordinarily difficult to return to the days of ocean-going passenger liners, trains and road transport as the only means of travelling. We live in much faster times.
So, I guess that we can all heave a collective sigh of relief for now that things are getting back to normal.
But what the experience of the past week has shown us is that we should never take anything for granted, because life as we know it is a precarious business and the forces of nature cannot always be tamed.