The Butterfly Effect

Yesterday was extraordinary.
On our way out of Morelia, we saw a dead man in front of a bus stop, facedown in the gutter with his slumped body still on the sidewalk. His butt was up a smidge with a knee tucked underneath his torso like a sleeping toddler.  My guess is that he died, fell, and then hardened in that position. The visual was jarring in and of itself, but what I found equally disturbing was that no one seemed to notice. The vendors were setting up on the corner, the morning traffic was building, and the people were walking around as if there wasn’t a dead person waiting for the bus. 

A few hours later we arrived at El Rosario Butterfly Sanctuary just outside of a tiny pueblo called Ocampo in Michoacan. It was a somewhat arduous hike up from 9,000ft to 12,000ft but worth every huff and puff of the way. Besides, our trek wasn’t nearly as long as the butterflies’. Every year, millions of Monarchs fly up to 2,500 miles from the U.S. and Canada to winter in Mexico, and we were able to see thousands of them. It was absolutely breathtaking. They looked like autumn leaves swirling in a light breeze and made a sound like purring gods—a murmur of flutters that tickle the eardrums (see Monarch Video under the Featured Video on our website)! If it wasn’t for all the loud people polluting the space, we could have stayed for hours, listening to the flap of paper-thin wings.   
The Monarchs have a cool story. They go through four stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly) during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. The first three generations, born between the spring and summer, only live 2-6 weeks while the fourth generation, born in the autumn, lives 6-8 months. This last generation must remain alive to migrate to the warmer climate before winter sets in up north. Most interestingly, the Monarchs winter in the same forests every year, even though they are not the same butterflies. How do they remember where their great-grandparents stayed the year before? Unfortunately, we many never know for certain because the survival of the butterflies is deeply threatened by polar bears. Okay, not really, but wouldn’t it be nice if for once humans weren’t the ones to blame? 
The major threats are large-scale farming, forest degradation and human encroachment. The large-scale farming using genetically engineered crops in North America eliminates the natural plants and weeds that produce nectar for the adults and food for the larvae. Illegal logging in the highlands of central Mexico destroys or degrades their winter habitat. And, humans moving into the coastal areas of California have an impact on the winter habitat used by monarchs in the far west.
The day’s collective images and sounds got me thinking of the butterfly effect:

n (Physics / General Physics) the idea, used in chaos theory, that a very small difference in the initial state of a physical system can make a significant difference to the state at some later time, e.g. a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world might ultimately cause a hurricane in another part of the world.
For example, let’s say that I buy an ear of corn at the grocery store, and this ear of corn was produced on a heavily subsidized monoculture farm in the U.S. that exports most of its production. To sustain such a large output, this farm uses a plethora of pesticides and herbicides that kill milkweed, the primary food of the Monarch butterflies. Now, let’s say that our dead guy from Morelia used to feed his family by growing corn on a small farm in Michoacan, Mexico, but was displaced from his land due to the depressed global commodity price of corn caused by agribusiness in the States. He considered illegally crossing the border into the States to work as a migrant farm worker on other people’s land but feared being killed at the border, not to mention that he loathed the idea of being so far away from his family. Instead he decided to move to Morelia to get a factory job, but when he got there, he realized that thanks to NAFTA, all the sweat shops went to China. Left with little choice, he started running errands for La Familia, the drug cartel that runs Michoacan. Then, sitting at a bus stop with some change in his pocket, waiting to catch a ride back to his village to feed his family, he is killed by a rival drug gang.  

I realize that I’m painting in broad strokes, but you get my point: we are all interconnected on this planet and our seemingly insignificant, daily choices, like buying corn, can make a huge difference. By simply taking small steps such as choosing to shop local, using less plastic or even just raising awareness, we can have a positive impact that stretches across continents, cultures, and generations. There is hope for the bees, the butterflies, and maybe even us, yet, if only we try– Stevie

For more info regarding the global effects of agribusiness:


  1. Damn Stevie,
    . . . your writing is POWERFUL!
    Keep at it – the world needs constant reminding.
    . . . may butterflies kiss your cheek . . .

  2. Veronica G says:

    Stevie, i like you painting broad strokes. and i agree, INTENTION is probably the one thing that will lead to action that will lead to a miracle to save our planet which is what it will take at this time. f $ c k.
    PS it would be nice if we could "LIKE" your posts – we see you have the FB "share" button, but a "LIKE" button could be a welcome addition 🙂 <3

  3. Thank you Mamtumeeee! Sometimes I think my posts may be a little doomsday for some folks, so I'm very happy that you appreciate them. I love and miss you, xoxo.

    My dear Veronica…that is a good idea. I'll look into it. Maybe there's a gadget I could find. I suppose I could always share it on FB and then you could 'like' it, but that's not quite what you're looking for, I know. I will work on it!

  4. Thats soooo cool! Nice video…

  5. This is really nice. You put the whole picture together for us. REally nice. I’m going to send it to the people at Global Justice so they can see how what they are teaching by butterfly effect (or the viral of the net!) spreads. They’ll be proud.
    I’m going to send it to my son-in-law too.
    Good reporting. You really should get some of your work to someone! The frugal traveller of the NYT didn’t do half this well of getting the story, you know!

  6. Layla Sunflower Morrell says:

    Funny, I saw the monarchs on this side stopping on their way to Mexico. Every year they stop in Santa Cruz and I was visiting for Christmas this year. They camp out in a forest right behind my Dad's house.

  7. Hey Layla!! So happy to hear your voice in my head as I'm reading your comment. I actually think that the Monarch butterflies winter in California too. The Mexican migrators are the ones that live east of the Rockies and north. Although, if I was a Californian Monarch, I'd just stay in Santa Cruz year round, right?

  8. The name of the small town is Ocampo, not El Campo. One of the side streets in the town is named Calle John Lennon and they have (or used to have) a small shrine in John's memory.

    You probably saw millions, not thousands, of butterflies.

    Great photos. I used to go every year to see the Monarcas, now I live in a place where they fly right over my house on the way South.

  9. Hey Magic Ed. We actually saw the Calle John Lennon and took a picture 🙂 Thank you kindly for the Ocampo correction. I updated the blog. Best wishes!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Another World Heritage Site.

  11. I just came across this cool article about how the Monarch's sense the Earth's magnetic field in order to navigate their migration. I thought you all might enjoy!

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