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  • February 22nd, 2019

WATCH WHERE YOU STEP

By Joel M. Vance

Leave it to science fiction to predict what’s in store for us. Ray Bradbury, the finest of all science fiction writers, summed it up in a short story written in 1952 about time travel. “The Sound of Thunder” appeared in Collier’s magazine— which perhaps prophetically is a magazine that has gone extinct.

 

The short story is set late in 2055, not so long from the present day, but quite a while distant from 1952. In the story a hunter pays $10,000 (which, if I compare it to the $2800 we paid for a brand-new Ford station wagon in the 1960s, today would probably be $40,000 or more. The $10,000 the hunter paid probably translates to upwards of $100,000 now. Anyway, the fee allowed him to join a hunting party to go back in time to the age of the dinosaurs in hopes of bagging a Tyrannosaurus rex.

 

In Bradbury’s 2055, time travel has become possible. While that probably will not actually happen, what does happen in the short story seems more and more likely in today’s chaotic world. Before they leave 2055, the hunters discuss a recent presidential election where a fascist oriented candidate has lost to a moderate (are we getting some chilly vibes here?).

 

The hunters discuss what has come to be known as the “butterfly effect.” What would happen, they wonder, if some tiny event from so long ago were changed so that its infinitesimal echoes would magnify over the centuries to unimaginable consequences in today’s world?

 

Sure enough, the hunter protagonist of the story steps on a butterfly in the late Cretaceous and when he returns to the present he finds that the fascist dictator has won the election and the country is in chaos. Is it possible that someone has gone back in time to the late Cretaceous, stepped on a butterfly, and so we have Donald J Trump as our president, a would-be dictator every bit in the mold of Bradbury’s spooky story?

 

Trump doesn’t even have to go back to the Cretaceous to step on butterflies— he’s doing it as we speak. As part of his insane compulsion to build a 2000 mile wall between us and Mexico regardless of how damaging it is to the country, to the environment, and to the eons to come, one small segment of his idiot plan is to disrupt and basically destroy the National Butterfly Refuge.

 

Butterflies are pollinators, one of the most necessary insects to carry pollen from plant to plant, ensuring that those plants will endure and in many cases, provide food for humanity. Without pollinators, notably bees and butterflies, plant life is imperiled and without plant life we are without food. It is the modern day example of Bradbury’s thesis— alter one tiny aspect of the environment and risk dire consequences down the line.

 

Ecologist Barry Commoner summed it up succinctly  “Everything is connected to everything else.” Step on butterflies, whether in the Cretaceous or right now, and you run the risk of future chaos. While chaos theory is as difficult for a nonscientific type like me to understand as is thermodynamics or balancing my checkbook, I can understand that one small change in a system can result in large differences later on— one theoretical example is that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas. Or stepping on one butterfly while dinosaur hunting in the late Cretaceous can result in Donald Trump being elected president.

 

Obviously, no one knows what an infinitesimal change today will result in eons in the future and none of us will be around to see it. But we already are seeing the results of climate change, no matter how vociferously Trump and his clueless allies deny there is such a change. Dramatic swings in weather are already upon us, probably the result of centuries of burning fossil fuel and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It’s not just from burning coal but also from the exhausts of millions of vehicles and from the clearing of forests (which also decimates the resident insect population).

 

And if there is any lingering doubt that the Trump administration is the worst threat to the environment  in modern history, comes the word that the Environmental Protection Agency (why don’t we just rename it the Environmental Destruction Agency?) has given approval to allow spraying of sulfoxaflor, a highly toxic pesticide to bees, on 16 million acres of cropland in 18 states— on crops that are highly attractive to bees. The EPA terms this an “emergency”. That seems to be the buzzword today for any stupid and destructive action by the government. If you want to do something that figures to be highly unpopular and damaging to boot, call it an emergency and to hell with the consequences and, for that matter to hell with human health and happiness.

 

None of those conditions existed in the late Cretaceous and, for that matter, mostly didn’t exist a few short centuries ago. Yet, we are seeing dramatic changes in world climate and the bulk of scientific thought is that it will only get worse unless we do something quickly—and by quickly they mean right now not when push comes to shove. Human tendency to kick the can down the road no longer is a viable chickening out for the problems that face us.

 

It’s well documented that climate change has caused widespread decline in the biomass of insects in many study areas throughout the world. In simpler terms, bugs are vanishing. Not just bugs, but mammals as well— human activity has resulted in the last 50 years alone for a decline of all mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish by an average of 60%.  One telling test about the decline of insects alone is easy enough for you to run the next time you go for a summer evening drive. Compare how many bugs smash into the windshield with how many you saw a decade or two ago. Not only are you actively killing bugs by running into them with the front end of the car but you also are contributing to their overall decline by the exhaust from the butt end of the car.

 

The National butterfly Center is a 100 acre refuge in South Texas along the Mexican border that is imperiled by Trump’s unnecessary and idiotic border wall that would separate 70% of the Center from its headquarters. It is far more than a symbolic refuge for threatened insects— it is a way station for migrating birds as well as butterflies in the Central Flyway. It was set aside specifically for threatened and endangered species and eliminating or imperiling its existence, which the wall would do, would, among other catastrophes create flooding to all property (which is privately owned) up to 2 miles behind the wall.

 

The center is the creation of the North American Butterfly Association, a nonprofit organization which is dedicated to the conservation and study of wild butterflies in their native habitats. It was established in 1993 and now has nearly 5000 members in 30 chapters across the United States. It runs butterfly counts in Canada, the United States and Mexico, similar to bird counts and other wildlife surveys that keep tabs on the health of countless wild creatures. Without such counts, conservationists are basically operating in the dark.

 

While the Butterfly Association primarily concentrates on Monarch butterflies, it can take credit for preserving the Royal Fritillary butterfly and saving the Miami Blue which is known from only one colony at Key West in Monroe County, Florida. These once were thriving insect species, now nearly extinct. If the Monarchs are next to go, where does that leave humanity? Is it the butterfly effect sooner than later?

 

Yet, even as I write this, Trump’s bulldozers, like Hitler’s Panzer tanks invading Poland, are moving in to the Butterfly Center grounds preparing to turn it into a lifeless no man’s land. The Butterfly Center immediately filed for a restraining order to stop the border Nazis from cutting down trees, ripping out fencing, widening roads and other activities detrimental to the purpose of the Center. A judge threw out their motion essentially granting the immigration intruders the authority to do what they damn well please. Among judge Richard Leon’s reasoning was that the refuge is “an open field” which would seem to be the very description of what is needed for a butterfly refuge.

 

Federal judge Richard Leon is a George W. Bush appointee.  He is a former attorney for the Immigration and Naturalization Service—the very folks who are bent upon destroying the Butterfly Refuge, literally clearing the way for Trump’s wall. Among Leon’s previous curious rulings is one blocking the Food and Drug Administration from stopping the importation of e-cigarettes which have become an epidemic problem among young people.  Enough said about the judicial climate today in Trump’s world of environmental destruction.

 

We have a mini tallgrass prairie of perhaps a quarter acre which I rescued from a wasteland of broom sedge and purple top, both plants of land too poor to support much of any value. Within a few years, big bluestem grass began to appear—apparently the seeds had lain dormant for who knows how long? I added some seed collected from remnant tallgrass patches and now have Indian grass to complement the big bluestem. And I collected seeds from purple gayfeather and now have a glorious blooming crop that annually attracts butterflies of all kinds. Once we had a thriving colony of butterfly weed, but for some reason that has dwindled to a single plant. I need to plant milkweed, the favored plant of Monarch butterflies and without which the Monarch is threatened with extinction.

 

Google milkweed sources and you’ll find many outlets for both seeds and plants– americanmeadows.com is one source for both, dedicated to the native plants found (or once found) on America’s native prairies.  I would love to see my mini prairie alive with butterfly weed and common milkweed— and also alive with the incomparable bloom of butterflies.

 

Ray Bradbury wrote another prophetic book “Fahrenheit 451” which is the temperature at which books ignite. In his book a future society had taken charge and confiscated all books and were burning them—which, if you remember your unpleasant history, is how the Hitler regime treated books it deemed subversive. Bradbury’s fragile underground population preserved books by memorizing them word for word and passing them from generation to generation.

 

Books today all too often are sensationalized accounts of some less than responsible citizen’s misdeeds but they sell in the millions and then quickly suffer the equivalent of Bradbury’s book burning— they are remaindered and forgotten. But the written word still is the major means of communicating ideas in a lasting way. Spoken media, whether television or radio, is almost as quickly forgotten as it is spoken. The written word has the potential of lasting forever.

 

But only if we can keep the Trumps of the world and their would be dictator brethren from sending the written word into oblivion, along with the insects which modern civilization seems so dedicated to eliminating. Without caring people, insects (and words to champion their right to exist), the world may come to a pass where none of the three of us any longer exists.

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. CJ

    February 22nd, 2019 at 9:42 am

    Reply

    Chilling.



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