Like millions of others, I was supposed to be flying over European skies last Saturday night—in my case to do a couple of days of media in Lisbon around the launch of the Portuguese edition of my book,“Porque É Que o Seu Mundo Vai Ficar Muito Mais Pequeno.”

Of course, I never got to Portugal. Most airports in Western Europe were closed due to the ash fallout from the still-exploding Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The much smaller world that I envisioned would come with triple-digit oil prices was coming a lot sooner than even I expected.

The airlines have a little more at stake than I do with my Portuguese book sales. They’re losing some two hundred and fifty million dollars a day from tens of thousands of cancelled flights over the course of the past few days. And the volcanologists suggest the eruptions could continue for several months. If that happens, European-based airlines won’t have to worry about triple-digit oil prices. Most will already have gone bankrupt from what volcanic ash alone will have done to air travel.

While airlines are on the front lines, just think of all the other ways the volcano has short-circuited the global economy. Consider the millions of meetings that never happened, the millions of business transactions that didn’t get made, the millions of missed hotel and car reservations. And think of the thousands of airline passengers who took global travel for granted only to find themselves stranded in European airports.

Naturally there are always exceptions. British comic John Cleese reportedly paid a $5,100 cab fare to get from Oslo to Brussels to circumvent the no-fly zone and make a gig. Those of us of lesser means stayed put; I, for example, am now writing a blog post in Toronto when I should be in some sunny café in Lisbon on a book tour.

But it’s not just people who aren’t able to get around. A good chunk of the global food supply chain also relies on air transport to ensure worldwide distribution. Think of all the havoc caused by broken supply chains in our interconnected global economy. From fresh pineapple from Ghana to fresh flowers from Kenya, Northern Europe’s already beginning to notice the disruption from the loss of air freight. The Freight Transport Association in the UK recently warned that British supermarkets could soon start running out of imported fruit and vegetables if the air embargo continues much longer.

Of course, the wind could change or the volcano could suddenly stop belching and all could quickly return to normal. But while it lasts, take careful note. It may well be a dress rehearsal for what lies ahead. What volcanic ash is doing today, triple-digit oil prices will do tomorrow.

  • G.B.
  • susan mallin

    Jeff I have followed your views since 1998. Though I don't remember if you ever addressed this question: – Oil Price VS Gas in my Car
    If oil prices rise due to demand / supply imbalances then invariably the price would change accordingly; including all of the sub industries such as gas. But please explain why gas prices at the pump increase in Canada based on oil price increases, that seem, are only based on US vs CDN dollar fluctuations on a short term basis. Surely this massive fluctuation in gas prices at the pump is currency based and not based on global daily supply imbalances. If my local gas bar pays a “neutralized” price for their supply taking into account price versus the currency paid (ie high CDN $ buying a USD $ priced commodity) Why are we paying extra for this to gas up our cars? It seems all smoke and mirrors to me. Maybe I'm missing something…can you enlighten me?

    Hope you're in an airport and bored out of your mind so you can give me a great and inspiring answer.

  • jlow

    Won't the downturn in Airline activity forestall the world you see coming? After all they are not burning up oil…

  • fayeferguson

    Hi Jeff my name is Faye and my Dad and Adrienne were/are cousins. I happened to see you being interviewed on CNN which is not my normal source for news. I don't expect you to personally answer me. My question that I have been pondering is why have US banks failed and not Canadian banks? What does Canada do differently??

  • CanuckfromtheWest

    We don't lend billions and billions and billions of dollars to people who have no real prospect of ever paying it back so they can buy houses they can't afford.

  • FY


    This would answer your question. It's all a matter of timing, than smart. The jury is still out on this one. Retrospective would be proven more insightful.

  • FY

    Sorry, I should have given you this link:…

  • whatisayute

    volcanic ash aside, I must say your book presents a sensationalistic view of the future (where we all grow our veggies in the back yard and talk to our neighbors again). While one can argue about whether this is a good or bad thing – your book does (begrudgingly it seems) give due note to innovation and technology, particularly in times of need (like $150 oil). Which is precisely why technology (I believe biotechnology) will make it possible to keep running our cars and everything else without the need for sucking goop out of Middle East deserts. So, lets keep the bridges and roads in repair, cars ain't goin away. The book left me feeling like there is a baby boomer with wistful feelings of the good old days (while helicoptering in to catch trophy fish in the Yukon). Would have emailed but don't see a link for contact on your site. (???) Hope you get the inconnu.

  • fayeferguson

    Thank you for the great information!! Most appreciated.

  • alchris

    I read that Cisco did a booming business in its video conferencing division as a result of business people not being able to fly. Maybe companies will look at the cost comparison and switch their way of doing meetings. I wouldn't invest in airlines which I think are mostly doomed but video conferencing and other such technologies might be worth a look.

  • MB

    So where is your research that 'biotechnology' can be a viable competitor to the energy contained in fossil fuels? And at a competitive price to serve the vast, near total scale of oil-dependence?

  • whatisayute
    Here's a link to some work going on. It's not here yet, but keep $150 oil in a scientists face and you'd be surprised how quick they work. Don't trade your car for a bike yet.

  • kristen
  • kristen