Anyone attempting to posit a link between the recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland and climate change needs to tread almost as carefully as the geologists examining the lava floes - it is very easy to get burnt.
Not only is the data and research into any link between climate change and increased incidences of earthquakes and volcanic activity extremely sketchy, any talk about a possible connection also risks fuelling the largely disproved claims from some climate sceptics that it is CO2 from volcanoes that is largely responsible for driving climate change.
However, scientists are surely right to today to call for more research into a possible link after noting that there is evidence to suggest rising global temperatures could increase the risk of geological activity such as earthquakes by influencing sea levels and the distribution of water in the world's oceans in a way that increases pressure on geological fault lines.
It might sound like a pretty tenuous link, but as Bill McGuire, head of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at University College London, noted in a series of papers published today by the Royal Society: "In relation to anthropogenic climate change, modelling studies and projection of current trends point towards increased risk in relation to a spectrum of geological and geomorphological hazards in a warmer world, while observations suggest that the ongoing rise in global average temperatures may already be eliciting a hazardous response from the geosphere."
It is likely to take years more research to definitively establish a link between climate change and any increase in geological activity, and as such it would be foolish to preempt the conclusions of that research beyond noting that if there is a link it would add yet another form of potentially catastrophic environmental risk for those political and business leaders considering our response to climate change to evaluate.
However, even if there is absolutely no link between geological activity and climate change the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland and the resulting grounding of aircraft across Europe still contains a powerful environmental message. Almost every week a new report suggests climate change will have a huge negative impact on the global economy, warning that the increased risk of flooding, drought, heat waves and conflict will fatally undermine economic development. These reports are now so common that it is easy to either ignore their central message altogether or argue that the global economy is resilient enough to adapt to a changing climate.
But the Eyjafjallajoekull eruption provides a powerful reminder that in certain circumstances the global economy is anything but resilient. What in the grand scheme of things is a relatively minor environmental event has the capacity to bring the economy of an entire continent to its knees.
You can argue, as the airlines are now doing, that we are being too risk averse in allowing Mother Nature to dictate to us. But the Icelandic eruption underlines the fact that every aspect of our economy is built on environmental foundations, and it only takes a small shift in those foundations to bring the whole edifice crashing down.
It is not scaremongering to suggest that the current transport (and hence economic crisis that is gripping Europe and by extension the entire world provides a mercifully brief sample of what could happen if oil supplies dwindle faster than expected; if climate change inflicts rapid environmental change on whole regions; or if the scientists are right and rising temperatures do indeed lead to more large volcanic eruptions.
It is a warning our political and business leaders would be wise to heed.
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