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How To Green Deserts & Address Climate Change At The Same Time

2013/04/09

Two thirds of the globe is turning into desert, at the same time that our population is heading towards ten billion, and we are disturbing weather patterns by pouring heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are behind the “greenhouse effect” that is warming our atmosphere, but our land use habits, especially those of industrial agriculture, play a much bigger part in our changing climate than is usually acknowledged. It’s TED Talk Tuesday on 350orbust, and in today’s talk by biologist Allan Savory he addresses this issue, and offers a surprisingly hopeful vision for the future:

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. 2013/04/09 6:37 am

    Nice little Ted talk

    • 2013/04/09 7:01 am

      Yes, it’s always nice to hear from someone with on-the-ground experience (no pun intended) and who brings a realistic yet positive perspective to the current crises humanity is facing.

  2. 2013/04/09 7:43 am

    I also wrote enthusiastically about this recently (http://http://science-pope.com/2013/03/reverse-climate-change-with-mobile-desert-meat), but someone was kind enough to point out that Savory’s work has been heavily critiqued. Read these links to get another point of view…I’m not sure where I stand on the issue right now.

    http://www.kcet.org/updaily/socal_focus/commentary/east-ca/learn-how-to-hate-the-desert-with-ted.html

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/03/17/adam-merberg-on-grazing-and-allan-savory-and-ted/

    • 2013/04/09 8:59 am

      Thanks for the links, SP. I had a look at them, and am not sure about the validity of the argument of the first one – ie deserts are a unique ecosystem and should be protected. I’m not sure that Alan Savory would argue that all deserts should be wiped off the face of the earth, but if you look at his global map of desertification (“land that is turning into desert”) we should all be concerned, as much of the continental US and most of Africa is included.
      The second link led me to this primary source: http://www.inexactchange.org/blog/2013/03/11/cows-against-climate-change/, where Adam Merberg argues that Savory’s method are unsupported by scientific data. I’m not sure about that – his case studies seem to suggest success – and Joel Salatin from Polyface farm is a supporter of Savory’s methods. The comments section in this article is illuminating. I’ve sent the link to this article to a farmer on the prairies who tells me they have been using this method on their farm with great success, and I will report back when I hear from her.

    • 2013/04/09 12:13 pm

      I saw this TED talk a short while ago and then, like Eric, came across the downside argument, leaving me undecided what to think. If it’s so obvious, why isn’t it simply being adopted across the board? (Or is is simply a case of Big AgriPharma fighting it tooth and nail because they want control?)

      There’s an interesting discussion about this over on Crock of the Week, with lots of interesting links.

      • 2013/04/09 1:13 pm

        Thanks for the link, P, I will head over and check out what Peter & friends are saying over at Crock of the Week. This seems to be a hot topic – pun intended 🙂

  3. 2013/04/09 9:13 am

    Okay, so here’s what Farmer Lisa says:
    “Their criticisms are laughable. They are clearly taking small bits of information and twisting it to suit their need to hear their own words. HM works. It is about recovery time for grass in the long haul. These people clear do not go out and actually do HM and observe it, or look at soil samples or count # of grass species per square meter year after year, or depth of roots, or carbon content, or water holding capacity, or mircobiology health, etc…They are completely missing the boat here…professional critics and not workers and observers…”

    • 2013/05/01 10:11 am

      Remind me again: what’s ‘HM’?, and who’s ‘Farmer Lisa’?

  4. 2013/05/01 10:07 am

    In yesterday’s TED talk Tuesday there was a reference to the film Vegucated which makes the point that our addiction to devouring animals is ethically, morally, environmentally and in many other ways plain simply wrong.

    Mr Savory’s view is exactly the opposite: according to him, the only solution to all our problems is to increase meatbeast herds. But then, by his own admission he was wrong about that massive elephant cull he was so certain was the right thing to do…

    … on reflection, I don’t believe a word of what comes out of his mouth, and in future I think I’ll be voting by putting more care into choosing what goes into mine.

    • 2013/05/01 10:58 am

      Hi P – “HM” is what Allan Savoury calls the method of farming he recommends, and stands for Holistic Management. “Farmer Lisa” is the friend of mine that I asked for feedback on regarding Allan Savoury’s talk, as she is a mixed use farmer on the Canadian prairies who is familiar with his methods (and in fact is using them on her family’s farm).
      As for the vegetarian/omnivore dilemma, everyone needs to come to their own conclusion. Clearly in the developed world we eat too much meat (it’s not good for our own health, never mind the health of the planet) that is raised in unethical, animal-harmful and planet-harmful ways.
      The answer to ecosystem crisis we are facing is multi-faceted, and there is not an one-size fits all response. So, I cheer you on for taking the response to feels ethical and responsible for you, bearing in the mind that the answer might be quite different for the Africans who are utilizing Savoury’s methods quite successfully.

      • 2013/05/01 11:57 am

        Thanks, Christine. Perhaps I judge Mr Savory too harshly: but he asks for it, as he seems to present his ‘final solution’ as ‘one-size-fits-all’, ‘no-other-option-left’. This is in direct contrast with the more balanced view I’ve come to expect as standard from you 🙂

      • 2013/05/01 3:04 pm

        🙂

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