Earth Day’s Butterfly Effect

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by Heather Cazad

Nowadays, we hear a lot in media about environmentalism and the effect humans have on the planet. We know more now. Thankfully, for the most part, we know better. Even still, it can be difficult to get started without being overwhelmed (I need to recycle this. Wait, should this be composted? What can I plant to best help the local wildlife? I live in an apartment and don’t know what to do…). I encourage everyone to try to do better by starting small. Because even the smallest effort can cause positive change.

Imagine the change that even just one person can make. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the idea that a small change in a system can result in large differences in the outcome. More commonly known than the chaos theory and weather module that produced the term, the butterfly effect is often referenced in time travel film and TV. The main character, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, learns that even the smallest bump in the timeline can create drastic results, and he spends the majority of his trek trying to course-correct. With this theory, there are no small acts. Every action has the potential to snowball into real change, creating a new timeline in which the world improves with every little step.

Imagine you purchased a six pack of soda, but you had the foresight to cut the plastic binding before throwing it away. That action saved a turtle who would have gotten caught in the plastic. Because that turtle lived, she was able to successfully lay her eggs and perpetuate the species with a few offspring. Those few offspring reach adulthood and keep things like jellyfish and algae under control and the ecosystem in balance. This balance occurs because you cut up some plastic.

Imagine you plant one apple tree in the park near your home. Over time, it grows as your life and your neighbors’ flit about with your everyday activities and chores. All the while, the tree grows taller, stronger, roots itself deeper into the ground. Eventually, it bears fruit. A hungry stranger passes by and takes an apple to keep moving forward. Some fruit gets carried away; seeds make their way into the ground. More trees take root. More fruit grows. Fauna find more places to inhabit and thrive, all because you planted one tree.

Imagine you decide to plant your garden with native and bee-friendly plants. You stop using pesticide and let some weeds, like dandelions, grow through in the spring. You start seeing bees return to your garden. Your children see how you create a bee-friendly environment, and they do the same in their own gardens in years to come. Eventually, you, your family and your friends have saved thousands of bees and helped revive the pollinators that plays such a vital role in our ecosystems. You tipped the scale and helped save a species.

Humans have certainly changed the world’s environments in many ways, and much of it has been damaging. We probably can’t reverse 100% of the damage, but research indicates we can undo the worst of it. We can do our best by acting thoughtfully and intentionally toward better sustainability. Every action matters. You just have to take that first step.

Here are some small first steps you can consider.

  1. Plant a tree in your yard or nearest available green space.
    More trees equal more oxygen and even better shade for your house to save on cooling costs in the summer. Start with a single tree, and grow from there.

  2. Start taking shorter showers.
    Cut down on wasted water by keeping showers closer to 5 minutes. Save the singing and choreography for karaoke night.

  3. Carpool or take public transportation.
    Fewer cars mean less emissions in the air. Plus, you can spend some time getting to know a neighbor or coworker.

  4. Start separating trash from recyclables.
    Starting small and not overwhelming yourself means building something into your routine before you jump all in. Start with the basics, and move on to composting later.

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