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Green Blog: The Butterfly Effect

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jan 30, 2013    •    706 Views

By Amy Tourgee, guest blogger, Kent Place School alumna and Environmental Studies undergraduate at Princeton University

One aspect of environmental science that has always been scary to me is the intense interconnectedness of a system.  For example, an ecosystem can be made up of millions of species, yet the removal of even one species can cause a collapse of the whole ecosystem. Scary, right?  And the same can be said for a social or economic system.

This complexity is similar to the “butterfly effect,” a chaos theory, which describes how a tiny disturbance can cause large and unintended consequences.  And if any of you out there have seen the movie/psycho thriller The Butterfly Effect, with Ashton Kutcher, you know how truly terrifying this can be…. that movie still haunts my nightmares.

Unfortunately, the butterfly effect comes into play even when solutions to environmental issues are implemented.  Recently, laws in the U.S. and Europe have called for a higher use of biofuel in cars.  While increased use of biofuels appear to be a good alternative to fossil fuels, it has had negative effects in Guatemala.  Land that was once used for growing food has been converted to land used to grow crops for biofuel because it is often more profitable.  This change in land use has driven up prices for food in Guatemala, which imports about half of its corn.

As someone who wants to eventually pursue policymaking for environmental issues, situations like this frustrate me and are a harsh reminder that no policy decision is a panacea.

Economic Lesson

The situation in Guatemala is a classic case of supply and demand on a larger scale.  The demand for corn remains the same yet the supply decreases, which creates a higher equilibrium price.

P.S. Next week I will begin blogging from Kenya! I will be studying abroad there next semester so stay tuned for my blog on the sustainability, biodiversity (so many elephants!) and culture of the country.

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