During the height of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano crisis last week, air traffic over Europe was paralyzed, and losses to the air travel industry reached $200 million per day. European leaders and the U.S. president did not dare to fly to the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.
And moralists made the expected banal statements about man’s insignificance before nature. But the more important issue is the idiocy of bureaucrats than the power of Mother Nature.
President Dmitry Medvedev calmly flew to Poland to attend the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski. Medvedev’s security staff is very strict and conservative and would not have gambled with the president’s life if there were a real danger of flying through the volcanic ash. In addition, Lufthansa, KLM and British Airways all conducted test flights in the volcanic “danger zone” without experiencing a single mishap or malfunction.
The volcano erupted a month ago, but since air safety bureaucrats did not pay any attention to the explosion at first, no flights were canceled.
My goal here is not to discuss the technical details of exactly how high the concentration of volcanic ash is over Europe or how dangerous it is to fly. My point is that nobody knows these details. During the first week of the crisis, not a single specialized aircraft flew through the ash cloud, nor was a single weather balloon launched. Whenever we read the news about billion-dollar decisions, we naturally assume that they are made by a group of highly trained and experienced volcanic experts working with a huge amount of scientific data.
In reality, however, the decision to ground flights over Europe was not based on scientific data but on bureaucratic logic, which is really very simple: The more damage you do, the more important you are. Placing a ban on flights ensures that the problem will receive enormous attention — and, most important, billions of dollars in government grants for future study.
It took more than $1 billion in losses to the airline industry before the European Union transportation ministers held a video conference call to start discussing the problem. They then decided to open one-third of European air space, despite the fact that the volcano had just started erupting with four times greater force than before.
The hysteria over Eyjafjallajokull is by no means an isolated case. Recall the dire predictions from so-called “specialists” about the Y2K problem in the months leading up to Jan. 1, 2000. Or recall the “specialists” from the World Health Organization who created hysteria over the avian and swine flus — and before that, the Atypical Pneumonia scare.
And don’t forget the most powerful international bureaucracy— the millions of individuals and agencies dedicated to fighting global warming. They are trying for the second decade now to gain control over the entire global economy by scaring us to death with the increase of carbon dioxide, or greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere. But in so doing, they forget to mention that the burning of fossil fuels only releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere that had already been there millions of years ago.
I suspect that problems such as swine flu and volcanic ash will only increase with time. If religion is the opiate of the masses, then science is the opiate of the bureaucrats.
Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.