Environment: Making it better wherever you are
Allan Savory is a man out to save the planet. He grew up in Africa, close to the land. A highly educated scientist, Savory has spent his life working to preserve the environment. His story is not at all ordinary. He has taken many wrong turns in his quest to find ways to restore the effects of environmental devastation. In his T.E.D. talk you can hear him frankly reveal his mistakes that he made despite thinking that he knew what he was doing as an esteemed ecologist. His broken road of missteps led him to a startling discovery made from observing the migratory habits of livestock, a discovery that gave Savory an idea that will bring the earth back to health and reverse the course of desertification. The idea is not new, animals have been implementing it for centuries, but people have not been paying attention.
Here is a little information from his organization’s website, The Savory Institute, and the good that they are accomplishing to heal the land:
Desertification is turning grasslands into barren desert, affecting an estimated one-third of the Earth’s surface. Holistic Management results in ecologically regenerative, economically viable and socially sound management of the world’s grasslands. The Savory Institute, through community-based Savory Hubs, empowers people to properly manage livestock to heal the land.
Here is an excerpt from his T.E.D. talk where Savory explains the process of holistic land management:
Now you're told over and over, repeatedly, that desertification is only occurring in arid and semi-arid areas of the world, and that tall grasslands like this one in high rainfall are of no consequence. But if you do not look at grasslands but look down into them, you find that most of the soil in that grassland that you've just seen is bare and covered with a crust of algae, leading to increased runoff and evaporation. That is the cancer of desertification that we do not recognize till its terminal form.
Now we know that desertification is caused by livestock, mostly cattle, sheep and goats, overgrazing the plants, leaving the soil bare and giving off methane. Almost everybody knows this, from nobel laureates to golf caddies, or was taught it, as I was. Now, the environments like you see here, dusty environments in Africa where I grew up, and I loved wildlife, and so I grew up hating livestock because of the damage they were doing. And then my university education as an ecologist reinforced my beliefs.
Well, I have news for you. We were once just as certain that the world was flat. We were wrong then, and we are wrong again. And I want to invite you now to come along on my journey of reeducation and discovery.
When I was a young man, a young biologist in Africa, I was involved in setting aside marvelous areas as future national parks. Now no sooner — this was in the 1950s — and no sooner did we remove the hunting, drum-beating people to protect the animals, than the land began to deteriorate, as you see in this park that we formed. Now, no livestock were involved, but suspecting that we had too many elephants now, I did the research and I proved we had too many, and I recommended that we would have to reduce their numbers and bring them down to a level that the land could sustain. Now, that was a terrible decision for me to have to make, and it was political dynamite, frankly. So our government formed a team of experts to evaluate my research. They did. They agreed with me, and over the following years, we shot 40,000 elephants to try to stop the damage. And it got worse, not better. Loving elephants as I do, that was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life, and I will carry that to my grave. One good thing did come out of it. It made me absolutely determined to devote my life to finding solutions.
When I came to the United States, I got a shock, to find national parks like this one desertifying as badly as anything in Africa. And there'd been no livestock on this land for over 70 years. And I found that American scientists had no explanation for this except that it is arid and natural. So I then began looking at all the research plots I could over the whole of the Western United States where cattle had been removed to prove that it would stop desertification, but I found the opposite, as we see on this research station, where this grassland that was green in 1961, by 2002 had changed to that situation. And the authors of the position paper on climate change from which I obtained these pictures attribute this change to "unknown processes."
Clearly, we have never understood what is causing desertification, which has destroyed many civilizations and now threatens us globally. We have never understood it. Take one square meter of soil and make it bare like this is down here, and I promise you, you will find it much colder at dawn and much hotter at midday than that same piece of ground if it's just covered with litter, plant litter. You have changed the microclimate. Now, by the time you are doing that and increasing greatly the percentage of bare ground on more than half the world's land, you are changing macroclimate. But we have just simply not understood why was it beginning to happen 10,000 years ago? Why has it accelerated lately? We had no understanding of that.
What we had failed to understand was that these seasonal humidity environments of the world, the soil and the vegetation developed with very large numbers of grazing animals, and that these grazing animals developed with ferocious pack-hunting predators. Now, the main defense against pack-hunting predators is to get into herds, and the larger the herd, the safer the individuals. Now, large herds dung and urinate all over their own food, and they have to keep moving, and it was that movement that prevented the overgrazing of plants, while the periodic trampling ensured good cover of the soil, as we see where a herd has passed.
Here is the link to Allan Savory’s talk on T.E.D. - the visuals are fascinating - and you will get the whole story on what he is accomplishing worldwide. Be sure to listen to the very end when the founder of T.E.D., Chris Anderson, takes the stage and emphasizes the importance of Savory’s work.