In 1958, Ray Bradbury published a story called “The Sound of Thunder” about a hunter going back in time and inadvertently stepping on a prehistoric butterfly. The action sets off a chain of events which causes catastrophic results to the hunter’s timeline in his own “present” time. The Butterfly Effect, and a wide variety of incarnations including several movie franchises of various names, is representative of the belief that small and seemingly insignificant events cause vast changes like the ripples spreading out from a pebble tossed into a pond. And we often fail to see those changes because eventually the ripples become the pond.

The thought is interesting, and both the scientific and social community give the theory weight and at least passing credentials. And though most people might have trouble believing some of the variations such as a butterfly flapping its wings in China causing a tidal wave halfway across the globe, the concept does adhere to a certain degree of common-sense train of thought. The old Aesop fable of the crane dropping tiny pebbles into an urn to raise the water level high enough to quench its thirst applies to the same logic in a more practical frame of reference, but it is essentially the same principle carried forward.

Now imagine the “ripple effect” of stepping on five different butterflies, all of a different species. Or 10. Or 100. The larger the ripple, the greater the effect, after all. What changes would this have on the future? Would it change the landscape of the world as we know it? Given our increasing understanding of the necessity of biodiversity and ecosystems, most logical-thinking people would agree to the thought that such events would definitely alter the world as we now know it and change the world of the future. We need every species on the planet, both plant and animal, because we are all connected.

We no longer need science fiction writers and movies posing “what if” this or that happened. The world is on fire, even if we can’t see the flames from our own windows or smell the smoke from our own front porches. Wildfires rage in California, fought by valiant men and women, only to spring up again after being momentarily extinguished. The Amazon rainforest — the primeval forest which predates human history — is a charred wasteland in much of the area that was once green and vibrant with life. And Australia, heartbreakingly, is a continent ablaze. This is no postapocalyptic movie about a dystopian future.

This. Is. Real.

Reuters.com reported that 13 million acres of Australia is on fire. To put this in a more manageable reference, a football field is just more than an acre of land; so nearly 13 million football fields are burning, belching smoke into the skies, all at the same time. In the fire’s wake, charred vegetation which leaves the earth itself unprotected from the rains which will come too late. But when those rains do come, the barren earth will erode and clog waterways, causing a different type of devastation.

And what about the animals whose habitat was within that seared landscape? Conservative estimates from Ecologists at the University of Sydney place the animal death toll at nearly a half billion (480 million) since September — and those are only the ones humans normally see.

The Australian biosphere is turning to ash, and within those ashes are the unseen remains of the small animals and insects who are so essential to maintaining the viability of the ecosystem — earthworms cooked below the surface and pollinating insects such as bees seared from flaming skies. Many believe the continent will never be the same.

Images captured during firefighting efforts in Australia show wild animals approaching humans rather than fleeing from them, begging for water as their world goes mad. Humans themselves are fleeing their own homes for safety as the lives they knew burn to the ground behind them. One news outlet even reported that some Australians took to boats to escape the fire’s wrath, and residents not yet directly in the fire’s path could smell the smoke from miles away and were often forced to wear masks when venturing outside. Australia has declared a National Emergency as they attempt to wage war with the fire to preserve what is left.

But this is not merely a national emergency. It goes beyond the devastation in California, beyond the few charred hulks of trees left in broad sections of the Amazon, and it even goes beyond the haunting, heartbreaking images from Australia. This is a global emergency, and it is everyone’s problem. All of the trees in California, the Amazon and Australia were absorbing carbon dioxide and dumping out oxygen into the atmosphere by the metric ton. And now they are gone. Pollinating insects were ensuring the growth of divergent plant species which also fed oxygen to the planet, and the earthworms and other ground burrowing insects were helping to enrich the soil so that all those oxygen producing plants would grow. And now they are gone.

Relief funds have been set up to help those fighting the devastation, and help is definitely needed. Actress Nicole Kidman and Country music artist Keith Urban are among those who have pledged donations to local firefighters. An internet search will quickly yield a large number of fundraising sites to which people can donate. As always, one should verify the credentials of these funds to make certain they are accurate as represented. And rather than send banking information across the globe, a prepaid credit card — which can be purchased at almost any store — would be recommended, especially for group donations. But regardless of how we do it, we all should try to help a little.

Whether it is a state away or across the country — even across the globe — it is still our world. Even if we can’t see the butterflies from our back porch.

Reach CHARLES ROMANS at cromans@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2655.

Recommended for you