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Over Easy: The Monsanto Butterfly Effect

On January 29, 2014, the World Wildlife Fund reported that the “number of monarch butterflies hibernating in Mexico reached an all-time low in 2013.” Since recording of overwintering areas began, the butterflies reached a peak in 1995, covering 44.5 acres in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City. Now they cover only 1.65 acres. Their decline can no longer be explained away by seasonal aberration. The monarchs are literally disappearing.

Monarch Butterfly

Is Monsanto’s Roundup killing butterflies?

The steady and now statistically significant disappearance of the monarch butterfly coincides with habitat loss that began with the introduction of hideous agribusiness giant Monsanto’s product Roundup (glyphosate), the expansion of Roundup-ready corn and soybean crops and the wiping out of milkweed, the food source for the caterpillars. World Wildlife fund (WWF) explains:

A number of factors have contributed to a sharp decline in monarch populations in recent years, including loss of reproductive habitat caused by land-use changes and reduction of milkweed (primary food source for monarch larvae ) from herbicide use; extreme climate conditions in Canada, the United States and Mexico; and deforestation and forest degradation in hibernation sites in Mexico.

‘The combination of these threats has led to a dramatic decline in the number of monarch butterflies arriving to Mexico to hibernate over the past decade,’ said Omar Vidal, WWF-Mexico Director General. ‘Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the monarch butterfly migration – a symbol of cooperation between our three countries – is in grave danger.’

University of Minnesota monarch specialist Dr. Karen Oberhauser adds her reflections to WWF’s news of the loss of this iconic butterfly:

I am deeply saddened by the terrible news shared by our friends at WWF-Mexico. I’ve studied monarchs and worked to conserve their incredible migratory phenomenon for 30 years, so the news has great personal meaning. However, as a conservation biologist, I know that what is happening to monarchs is also happening to many other uncounted organisms – organisms whose loss would be equally tragic.

She further explains that to save the monarch we will need a “groundswell” conservation effort similar to the efforts in the 60s and 70s with the Endangered Species Act. The monarch conservation issue may come down to educating the public about it. While a USGS published study reports that most Americans would likely pay to help the monarchs, there is already an unfortunate GOP bill afoot aiming to gut the Endangered Species Act.

WWF is calling on leaders of Canada, the United States and Mexico to agree to a plan to save the monarch. A summit is planned for February 19 in Toluca, Mexico.

The monarch butterfly is a milkweed butterfly that is famous for its southward late summer/autumn migration from the United States and southern Canada to Mexico and coastal California, and northward return in spring, which occurs over the lifespans of three to four generations of the butterfly. But, the milkweed is being mowed and sprayed out of existence, taking the monarchs with it.

In an article titled The Missing Monarch, Warren Cornwall, writing for Slate puts it this way:

The butterfly’s life cycle is exquisitely synchronized to the seasonal growth of milkweed, the only plant its larvae will eat. In a game of hopscotch, successive generations of monarchs follow the springtime emergence of milkweed from Mexico as far north as Canada. The hardy plant once flourished in grasslands, roadsides, abandoned lots, and cornfields across much of the continent. It fueled a mass migration that ended each winter with more than 60 million butterflies converging on pine forests in the Sierra Madres.

Then came Roundup.

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect (wki) is the sensitive dependency on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name of the effect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the theoretical example of a hurricane’s formation being contingent on whether or not a distant butterfly had flapped its wings several weeks earlier.

However in Monsanto World, the goal seems to be to disappear both the real and metaphorical butterfly, as well as the milkweed, the honeybee, and whatever else it can destroy, and redesign the outcome beginning with the hurricane, from a corporate boardroom, using the environment as an expendable laboratory.

Documentary: Plight of the Monarch


University of Minnesota Monarch Lab

Monarch butterflies drop, migration may disappear

Monarch butterflies’ Mexico migration plunges

Monsanto blamed for disappearance of monarch butterflies

The Missing Monarchs
Monsanto’s Roundup and genetically modified crops are harming everybody’s favorite butterfly.

Photo by William Warby released under a Creative Commons license.

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