All Creatures Cute and Furry
One exercise that has become increasingly common at low-level universities and junior colleges concerns endangered or extinct species. Students are invited to appear in costume as, say, a White Tiger or a Passenger Pigeon. A friend of mine had a different idea: She showed up as a Variola virus, a.k.a. smallpox, with a sign reading “Glad to have me around?”
In today's college climate, I would predict an A for the tiger and an F for smallpox, which underscores the notion of the “marquee species” extinctions. Dragoon the warm, cuddly, or handsome animals in the support of biodiversity or global warming legislation, and try not to talk about the garden-variety slugs, yucky toadfish, or yard-long tapeworms.
This lesson hasn't been lost on the environmental community, which has adopted penguins, polar bears, and baby seals in service of the Kyoto Protocol. Never mind that bears eat the seals, or that the bears are approaching American-style obesity in garbage-strewn Churchill, Manitoba, far south of the Arctic Circle. It hasn't been lost on scientists that talking about global warming's killing butterflies will get a first-class seat to the next UN confab much quicker than relating climate variability to a decline in skunks—which brings us to the butterfly story.
The end result of these changes could be substantial ecological disruption, local losses in wildlife and extinction of certain species.
—Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), January 8, 2003
We've all heard that old saw about how the flap of a butterfly's wings in China can initiate a tornado in downtown East Podunk, or wherever. That's a real stretch from pioneering MIT atmospheric scientist Ed Lorenz's original notion about chaos theory, which is