The Power of One Butterfly

By Phyllis Stiles, Bee City USA Founder & Pollinator Champion, Xerces Society

​As I retire as leader of Bee City USA this December 31st, I will be celebrating each and every Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA committee member and pollinator advocate. They are making the world better for pollinators—and people!

It’s all about physics. Remember the Butterfly Effect? Pioneer in chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, introduced the concept in 1963. Here’s the idea. When a butterfly flaps its wings, it sets air molecules in motion, starting a chain of events that can snowball and create ever bigger changes, eventually even a tornado or hurricane in another part of the world. While the butterfly doesn’t create the tornado, it may not have happened had that single butterfly not flapped its wings. Physicists have a term for this: sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

I have learned each of our actions, no matter how small, has the potential for far-reaching ripple effects. Every minute, hour, day, and lifetime offers untold opportunities for good when we begin with gratitude for the cacophony of lifeforms that coexist, cooperate, and collaborate on our planet.

Beginning around 2011, when I first realized how wondrous and essential the pollinators are to sustaining life on earth, combined with alarm over the existential threats they face, I wanted to do something. But what and how? I naively started talking to my friends and neighbors to invite their help. I was 55 years old and already working full-time fundraising for a university, I knew relatively little about pollinators or plants, and I had no financing to launch a local—much less national—program. But Margaret Mead’s wisdom echoed in my head, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In the years since, I have learned an awful lot about pollinators and plants. Incredibly, today there are 184 certified Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA affiliates in 41 states—all thanks to each “butterfly” who continues flapping its wings to bring attention to the tiny creatures that keep our planet blooming and fruiting.

With no exaggeration, these past eight years have renewed my faith in humanity. As I retire at the end of this year and leave Bee City USA and Bee Campus USA in Xerces’ capable care, I am brimming with gratitude for each pollinator advocate. It has been a privilege to talk with you, meet you, and hear about the ways you are mobilizing your communities for conservation. Thank you, thank you for bringing me such hope for the future.

​After December 31st, please feel free to contact me at [email protected].  I plan to continue supporting Asheville’s Bee City USA program and spending some time with my upright bass, doing yoga, hiking, reading the big stack of books next to my bed….I’ll make my second trip to the Mexican monarch sanctuaries in January. My husband wants me to convert my home office back into a bedroom, but I don’t know about that.

Bee City USA will be in good hands at Xerces.  Based at Xerces’ home office in Portland, Oregon, the new coordinator is Molly Martin. She has a master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology from San Francisco State University where she studied pollinator ecology. Contact Molly at [email protected]. You are really going to enjoy getting to know her!

Bee City USA Begins a New Chapter

An initiative of the Xerces Society, Bee City USA’s conservation work is powered by our donors. Your tax deductible donation will help us to protect the life that sustains us.

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