President's Letter - August - The Butterfly Effect



In a work entitled, 11/22/63, Stephen King tells the story of a young man named Jake who discovers a portal in a diner's kitchen leading back to 1958. Jake soon deduces from his time travels that altering history is possible.  He decides to travel back to 1963 for the purpose of preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting President John F. Kennedy and succeeds. When he returns to the present, however, his expectations of a much-improved world are dashed. A nuclear war has destroyed much of the planet and his own home is in ruins. 

In addition to being a masterful work of fiction, 11/22/63 is a classic example of the interconnectedness of all things. One slight deviation can have magnanimous impacts on a complex system, an idea that has been dubbed "the butterfly effect."  It takes its name from the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings can set in motion other catalysts that ultimately result in something cataclysmic, like a deadly typhoon. In other words, a very small deviation or error in a process or system can have a large and often unexpected impact, as shown in the chart below.


Another example of the effect comes from analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the crisis, a Russian submarine near Cuba was submerged too deep to monitor radio signals.  The crew was thus blind to what was happening in the world above.  As American aircraft began using depth charges to get the sub to surface, its captain interpreted the activity as a sign that war had been declared.  He prepared to fire a nuclear torpedo until another officer, Vasili Arkhipov, argued against the action.  Had the torpedo launched, a nuclear holocaust would likely have ensued.  One man's courage thus saved the entire world. (I am indebted for the foregoing ideas to the Farnam Street Blog).

We live in a fragile world where our actions and inactions can have enormous impacts that are unforeseeable.  Our failure as a chapter to be able to support students financially may mean the profession's and your firm's loss of future talent.  At a time when truly abominable decisions that affect the environment and the bottom line for many firms are being made at the federal level, our inability to put more resources into communication and advocacy may have dire consequences.

I wrote to every member recently and asked you to consider making a contribution toward our scholarship and green roof campaigns.  This would free up revenue in our budget for other important initiatives like advocacy, communication, education and shoring up our administrative capacity as a chapter. If you have already sent us a check, please know how much we appreciate your support. If you haven't, please use this link to make a donation by credit card or PayPal.  Give what you can afford.  Like the butterfly flapping its wings, even a relatively small gesture can have a big impact.

As always, if there is something that the chapter or I can do to assist you, I hope you will reach out to me at barbara@neighborspacebaltimorecounty.org or at 443-377-3760.


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