3 Small Things That Have a Big Impact

The butterfly effect is an element of chaos theory that describes a situation in which a small change in the environment can result in huge differences later. The effect earned its name from the example of a hurricane forming based entirely on whether or not a butterfly across the world had flapped its wings weeks prior—a pretty small action leading to a big result.
Chaos theory aside, sometimes the smallest things do have a profound, global impact, more so than you could ever imagine. Read on to learn more.
1. Rats
Rats already have something of a bad rap. They are often held responsible for the Black Plague, though by now, we understand that the fleas on the rats were the greater danger. Even in modern times, having rats in the home or office requires attention from a pest control company—they chew on your walls, leave their droppings everywhere, and eat your food. Plague or not, we typically like to live separately from them.
Rats might eat some of your cereal or get into packets of uncooked pasta, but think about all the other rats are out there feeding on everyone else’s cereal. Turns out, rats are responsible for some hefty global damages. In fact, in impoverished, rural areas, rats destroy 20 percent of stored grain and 20 percent of food crops. Globally, rats are estimated to eat or contaminate five to ten percent of everything we produce.
Rats have grown alongside us for a greater part of our existence. As humanity has grown and flourished, so have rats.
2. The Three Gorges Dam
In 2012, China finished the world’s largest dam, spanning across the Yangtze River and capable of generating up to 22,500 megawatts of power. That’s one amazing undertaking, showing China’s engineering, design, and technology prowess. Compared to us, a dam is not a very “small” thing, but when compared to the globe and rotation of the earth, it seems like small potatoes.
In reality, the sheer size and scope of the dam was enough to actually shift the Earth’s rotation. In fact, we have known that dams could alter Earth’s rate of spin for years by studying physics. If you change the weight and pressure of Earth’s water, it has an effect on how it spins. Dams and reservoirs in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres shift the water in relation to Earth’s equator, essentially moving the water closer to its axis, altering the planet’s gravitational field and causing a slight tilt.
So when China opened the floodgates, the filling of the reservoir actually caused the planet to tilt on its axis and actually slowed its rotation, making days longer by less than a microsecond. That’s not much, but at the same time, it’s scary thinking that something manmade could have such a profound impact on this big blue marble.
3. Sea Life
About 70 percent of the world’s surface is covered by water. The seas hold 96.5 percent of all the Earth’s water. In trying to understand the ocean, scientists developed a series of complicated equations to describe how it all works, but applying those equations to real life didn’t match up.
What those scientists didn’t take into account: everything living in the ocean. Ocean mixing describes the process by which seawater, in its many layers, interacts and distributes nutrients, gases, and heat throughout the world. Scientists assumed that animals had no effect on ocean mixing until they discovered a mechanism known as Darwinian mixing. This mechanism works like drafting in aerodynamics. As a swimmer, jellyfish, or shark swims through the water, it drags some of the water with it.
Now consider all the millions of creatures moving in the ocean. All that movement combined can cause as much oceanic turbulence as a storm.
Just remember that the little things do make all the difference.