The Butterfly Effect

By Katie Kramer

The definition of Butterfly Effect, as described by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a property of chaotic systems (such as the atmosphere) by which small changes in initial conditions can lead to large-scale and unpredictable variation in the future state of the system.” According to the Butterfly Effect, a principle of Chaos Theory, a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. Many other things contributed to the hurricane, such as different air pressures or weather patterns, but the butterfly contributed in a small way. What would have happened if the butterfly did not flap its wings in that exact place at that exact time? This is an example of how minute actions could create unpredictable, impactful events in the future.

Something we as a society frequently complain about is how we wish we could have gone to an event or done something in the past. A common phrase I hear is “I wish I could go back in the past and change X.” We notice how our lives are now and note what we could have done to achieve different outcomes or to live different lives, and we blame our past selves for making the decisions we thought were right in that moment.

We tend to dwell on the past and worry about how we should have acted or what we could have done to change the way our lives are now, but we often overlook how our current actions will inevitably affect the future. For example, we criticize ourselves for allowing the planet to become so polluted and stripped of natural resources within the past hundred years. However, we often do not stop to think about how the way we are living could be contributing to the problem at hand, thus worsening the quality of the planet and adding to the already rising issue of global warming.

“What can I do? I am just one person.” Making small changes, as stated by the Butterfly Effect, can bring forth drastic outcomes. Recycling, stopping the usage of non-reusable plastic items, limiting our intake of products made from trees, and utilizing the power of the natural world to give us electricity are changes we can make that could positively affect our planet. We can bike or walk to our destinations instead of driving to reduce our carbon footprint. Shopping at a local farmer’s market allows for less plastic production (which uses fossil fuels and releases greenhouse gases into the air) and a lower probability of that plastic ending up in the environment. For one-time-use items, try to get as many uses out of them as possible.

The swale incorporated into Rock Canyon’s water management plan

The landscape of one’s yard can also aid in our efforts of protecting the Earth. Installing a rain barrel reduces the amount of rainwater runoff from roofs, which can sweep different chemicals from fertilizers into the waterways of our homes. Using organic mulch not only reduces the chemicals in the environment, but it also helps to retain water in the soil and keep plants healthy. Installing trees, flowers, and other native plants in our yards can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and soil, and something as simple as choosing native plants and plants suited to our region can help our local ecosystems flourish. The landscape around one’s home can help to prevent damage from increasing natural disasters as well; installing drain systems can prevent flooding, and making fire-safe plant zones can help to prevent the spread of wildfires. TLC Garden’s Rock Canyon project from over a decade ago featured a swale that was entirely redone. This helped protect the owners’ home from the devastating flooding that struck Longmont and surrounding areas in 2013. In addition, recycled road base was used under the hardscape and the retaining wall was built at frost level, making it more sustainable over time. Another example is in TLC Garden’s Western Exposure project which utilized artificial turf and low water plantings in an effort to conserve water.

TLC Gardens made use of recycled materials on Western Exposure

We have a time limit, and we cannot wait for good things to happen. We have the ability to make a positive impact on our planet and the Butterfly Effect proves that the small actions we take now can have a massive effect on the future.