The butterfly effect

How small changes can emerge into something magnificent.

Have you heard of the butterfly effect? It’s a phrase commonly used to suggest that tiny actions, like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings, could have an extraordinary impact on events in the future.

So, where does the idea come from? It evolved from a weather prediction which suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in one country could set off a series of atmospheric events – that could potentially cause a tornado in another country weeks later. It sounds far-fetched, but strange sequences of cause and effect can (and do) happen!

Edward Lorenz, the mathematician and weather scientist who came up with the idea in the 1960s, was trying to prove how weather can’t be predicted too far in advance because tiny changes to the initial conditions could change everything. An unexpected small change to the atmospheric pressure could alter the predicted weather dramatically, including where a storm ultimately hits.

The concept has become so famous that it’s used as a metaphor or symbolic statement to suggest that a small change can have a big effect elsewhere. Just as the weather is sensitive to small changes, so are our lives. We are like the butterfly, and our actions could have a positive or negative impact on people near and far. Likewise, the actions of others could affect your life. There are many small things we can all do that could have a big impact on the world around us.


Tackling climate change is one of the biggest concerns in the world, and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by scary-sounding stories about what needs to be done to help. But each small change you make to lower your carbon footprint and help the planet – whether it’s by reducing, recycling or reusing – will have an impact somewhere.

  • RECYCLE WASTE – Are you making an effort to ensure your products are recycled rather than just thrown away?
  • LITTER PICKING – Think of the impact discarded rubbish has on the environment, especially on wildlife. Could you help by organising a litter collection in your area or school?
  • CUTTING DOWN ON PLASTICS – Do you reuse your plastic bottles? Are you recycling all your plastic waste?
  • REDUCING ELECTRICITY AND WATER USE – Do you unplug your gadgets and computer at the end of the day to save on electricity? Are you conscious about how much water you use when you brush your teeth?
  • CONSCIOUS FASHION CHOICES – Think about looking in vintage clothes shops for a more unique look that won’t harm the environment as much as new clothes.


Just think about it – every choice you make has a ripple effect, from deciding to go to bed early, which is likely to make you more productive the next day, to whether or not you revise for that end-of-term test. But what about how your choices affect others? Without knowing it, your behaviour and actions – no matter how small – could be inspiring those around you.
Here are some ideas of what could make a difference without you even knowing:

  • YOUR WORDS – You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life, so a kind word, a compliment or expressing your gratitude could make a difference to their day.
  • YOUR ACTIONS – Helping someone out directly could make a difference, but there are indirect ways to have an effect, too. Donating clothes you no longer wear and toys you no longer play with to a charity shop might bring happiness to someone that you don’t even know.
  • BEING KIND TO YOURSELF – Small choices you make for yourself could make a difference to others: for example, if you rest when you’ve got a cold, rather than carrying on and making yourself feel worse, you’re less likely to pass on the virus. It’s not just that little things have a big impact, it’s that they can lead to unpredictable results that change the course of an event. But it all depends on the power of your intentions. You might feel that your life is heading one way, but you have the power to improve your journey by making positive changes – that flutter like the wings of a beautiful butterfly into something magnificent.

Words by Donna Findlay

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