Saturday, May 06, 2023

The butterfly effect and the carbon footprint as vivid everyday images

The concept of the "butterfly effect" — the flap of a butterfly's wings can later cause a faraway torando — comes from chaos theory: Small changes in the initial conditions of a nonlinear system can generate large differences in a later state. The vivid everyday image of the butterfly and the tornado has surely helped popularize the concept, as has the figure's implication that our human decisions might also be like those butterfly wingflaps. The concept of the "carbon footprint" also takes a vivid everyday image — the footprint — and connects it to individual action: we can hope that our small individual decisions will accumulate to lead to signficant change at a later date. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 May 2023)

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