The fascinating volcanic air-travel crisis in Europe has a few lessons to teach us here. Foremost in my mind is the value of diversification. While air travel is obviously significant in Europe, they also have an excellent rail network that has been able to take up some of the slack. Imagine the same thing happening in the US, with our pathetic excuse for rail travel. Diversification is good.
Closer to our own interests, consider this from the Washington Post:
A breakdown in air cargo shipments into the largest cities in Europe, including London, Paris and Berlin, left supermarkets warning of looming shortages of fresh produce. The groundings meant fruit from Africa and South America were rotting in crates in their countries of origin.
Much of our world economy is based on finely-tuned global import/export which cannot handle disruptions. Whether or not importing produce from Africa and South America to Europe is a good thing is another argument; this incident makes it clear that having local, diversified sources of food also serves as a buffer and backup to disruptions.
Again, imagine a similar situation in the US, something that stopped shipments of produce from California for a few weeks. The eastern half of the country, despite containing almost all the nation’s useable farmland, would run out of vegetables. That’s absurd.
Note to policymakers: rail networks and local foods are not indulgences for good times. They are diversifications for all times.