Standing ovation for a radical message
After Allan Savory's presentation, "How to Green the Desert and Reverse Climate Change," at the 2013 TED global conference, The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered., he received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience. This was not the typical parched scientific lecture on global warming. The TED talk explored the disturbing trend of desertification, described by Savory as "a fancy word for land that is turning into desert," and the implications this holds. The devastation of habitat, usable land and waterways are the stark realities of spreading deserts. Climate change is also accelerated. Due in part to the widespread practice of burning dry grasslands in an attempt to revitalize the soil, global warming is also aggravated by the carbon and moisture loss from exposed soil. Considering the burning of a single hectare of land "gives off more and more damaging pollutants than 6,000 cars," said Savory, better solutions are urgently needed. Keep in mind that Africa alone burns over one billion hectares a year.
According to Savory, if carbon remains in the ground instead of rising into the air, the soil is healthy and can sustain plant life. Waterways are preserved as well. The ramifications are enormous. Not only is the land fertile for agriculture and livestock, but entire communities also have access to water -- curbing disease along with starvation. And global warming is rapidly reversed too.
Holistic land management 101
Developed over 40 years ago, Holistic Management is a system that "results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable and socially sound management of the world's grasslands ... [It] teaches people about the relationship between large herds of wild herbivores and the grasslands," as stated by the Savory Institute.
Allan Savory discovered through years of observation, study and failure that when herd animals are removed from the land, the soil dies. Yet, when domesticated animals are properly managed to mimic natural herd migrations and grazing, the soil and surrounding ecosystem spring back to life. He realized herd animals play a crucial role in easing desertification by providing dung and trampled plant matter. A protective layer is formed through this process, trapping moisture and carbon in the soil. The results are truly staggering -- lush and healthy grasslands, waterways and communities replace barren desert.
Too good to be true?
Critics of Savory's method are quick to point out thorough scientific research is lacking. They also maintain that livestock grazing, regardless of management, remains destructive to the environment and atmosphere. Savory counters that his proof is in the outcome. One of the many stunning success stories is found with the rangelands in Dimbangombe, Zimbabwe.
When all is said and done, the end result is what counts. Environmentalist Bill McKibben observes, "Done right, some studies suggest, this method of raising cattle could put much of the atmosphere's oversupply of greenhouse gases back in the soil inside half a century. That means shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing is one of the few changes we could make that's on the same scale as the problem of global warming."