Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Butterfly Effect

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas ?
- Philip Merilees

The above phrase refers to the Butterfly Effect – a phenomenon whereby a very insignificant change in a complex system can significantly alter an anticipated course of events. It refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events.

This term could very well refer to the Climate Change crisis that the world faces, where a small event in the Arctic Circle, like a breaking of a ice shelf, can lead to a series of unconnected events that could eventually sink a small island in Southern Pacific Ocean.

Climate change is an issue that has unified the world like no other… It has converged economic, social, environmental, political, gender, equity, and all other such concerns into one overarching concern – the well being of our planet. It has converged on the same platform, countries, communities and sectors that otherwise would not even see eye to eye, let alone work together. It has made the concern of an Eskimo living on the Arctic Shelf, the concern of the person living in the equatorial forests of Papua New Guinea.

The reverse also holds true. For if we are to reverse or slow down the process of Climate Change, it can only happen through tens of thousands of small and large initiatives the world over. It would require the flapping of a million butterfly wings to stop the climatic extremes that we are on the verge of facing.


Edward Norton Lorenz (May 23, 1917 – April 16, 2008) was an American mathematician and meteorologist, and a pioneer of chaos theory. He discovered the strange attractor notion and coined the term butterfly effect.

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