Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day and The Butterfly Effect

Environment #2

"Humankind has not woven the web of life.
We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect."

Chief Seattle, 1854

The Butterfly Effect

"The Butterfly Effect is a metaphor that encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory; namely that small differences in the initial condition of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system."

In other words, small changes within a complex system lead to unpredictable results.

(click on photo to view larger image)
This Weidemeyer's Admiral butterfly perches on
some foliage at Pine Valley Ranch in Pine, Colorado

I use this metaphor for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day because of the very unpredictable nature of the not-so-small changes we are creating on the planet and its inhabitants and how far reaching and serious the consequences of our actions are.

In 40 years of Earth Day celebrations and countless other reminders of our effect on the planet, we still haven't turned back the tide in many of the areas where it counts the most.


There is already more than enough evidence to support human action as being the cause of  extinction of many of the earth's species so far. Just a few examples: the Passenger Pigeon, hunted to extinction over the course of a few decades; The Bali Tiger, declared extinct in 1937 due to hunting and habitat loss; and the Golden Toad of Costa Rica, which hasn't been seen since 1989.

Butterflies Are Free. . . to Disappear

Back to butterflies. . . One example that we are in real trouble is happening on local and global scales: the decline of butterfly populations.

Habitat loss and climate change are having a serious impact on Europe’s butterflies, beetles and dragonflies. (See also Global Warming Puts Butterflies at Threat.)

And in Australia climate change is directly responsible for behavioral changes in butterflies.

"Many flowering plants are so closely linked to butterflies (and vice versa) that one cannot survive without the other. When you think about the natural interdependence network that could collapse due to the extinction of one important species, it starts to get a little scary.
For the first time, a causal link has been established between climate change and the timing of a natural event – the emergence of the common brown butterfly."

According to David Attenborough, Britain's leading conservationist, "Butterflies are sensitive indicators," Sir David said. "They decline when habitats are destroyed and when man harms the environment. We have known about butterfly losses in Britain for over 50 years. Now there is mounting evidence that it is a global problem."   Attenborough aghast at global decline of butterfly population

The butterflies, like the canary in the coal mine, are a but a warning.

"There is little doubt left in the minds of professional biologists that Earth is currently faced with a mounting loss of species that threatens to rival the five great mass extinctions of the geological past. As long ago as 1993, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson estimated that Earth is currently losing something on the order of 30,000 species per year — which breaks down to the even more daunting statistic of some three species per hour. Some biologists have begun to feel that this biodiversity crisis — this 'Sixth Extinction' — is even more severe, and more imminent, than Wilson had supposed."


"There is little doubt that humans are the direct cause of ecosystem stress and species destruction in the modern world through such activities as:
  • transformation of the landscape
  • over-exploitation of species
  • pollution
  • the introduction of alien species"

Unpredictable Consequences?

The Butterfly Effect may indeed suggest unpredictable results as far as exactly what consequences disappearing species will have on our planet but one thing is very predictable: If we continue on our current path of environmental destruction, countless more species will disappear from the face of the earth. Perhaps even our own.

Can we afford to wait another 40 years before we, as a planet, take stronger action?


Read More About Extinctions Here:

Loss of Biodiversity and Extinctions

For more on Earth Day 2010 and what you can do to be
part of the solution instead of part of the problem, visit the

Official Earth Day 2010 web site.


Purchase a Greeting Card of This Photo Here



bobbie said...

Sadly, what you say is all too true. Butterflies, and many flowers along with them, may become a memory in the not too distant future. How very sad for future generations. I cannot bear to imagine life without them.

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

I know. Between the bees disappearing from colony collapse disorder and the butterflies and other pollinators declining, we'll have no flowers left. And no flowers means no fruit, nuts, seeds, coffee, chocolate or many of the other commercial crops we rely on. It's not just a matter of living without their beauty, it's a matter of survival. :(

Kat_RN said...

Excellent way of putting it.

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

Thanks, Kat! :)

Dianne said...

humans are so arrogant

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

Indeed we are, Dianne. And so incredibly short-sighted. :(

Kilauea Poetry said...

Hi there Lisa..and I was only worried about immigration? Lol..lovley butterfly. I'm very slow getting that garden in line but I suppose with this growing season that's beginning- you could say I'm not too far behind yet?
Hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

Hi Regina! Thanks. :)

I'm behind on my gardening as well. . . but. . . considering it's been snowing all day and we are expecting up to two feet by tomorrow, I guess that's okay. ;)

You have a great weekend as well. For sure it's going to be better than mine, though. At least you won't be shoveling. LOL!

becky said...

That is one of my favorite quotes.

HBFG said...

All we can do is start with ourselves. Make small changes within our own human "system", which is also very complex. When everyone makes a small change for the better, the collective will change too. That is what I believe.
Thank you!

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

Mine, too, Becky. :)

You're right about that HBFG. If everyone did their part we wouldn't have the problems we have.

Linda said...

Dianne is right in that humans are so arrogant and thinking it's okay to do with the earth whatever we will because we're the 'superior race'. My foot! You'd think we could learn to get along with our environment and the others who share it with us rather than ruin it for everyone else.

Honestly, I don't want to imagine a world without butterflies!

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

Me either Linda! It's hardly "superior" logic to take animals, including ourselves, to the brink of extinction is it?

Kerri said...

What a beautiful butterfly! We definitely need to take care of these and other lovely creatures ~~ and ourselves ~~ by taking care of our planet :)

Lisa (Mountain Photog) said...

Thanks so much Kerri! Yours is beautiful too! All your photos are incredible.

Glad you agree about the butterflies--and the planet. You would think most sane people would feel that way, wouldn't you?

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