Sunday, 10 March 2013

A bridge in the climate debate

The ideas as revealed in this essay are considered by its author, Anthony Watts, to be such a ‘light bulb’ experience that he has pinned it to the top of his blog site, which just happens to be the largest climate change blog site in the world Watts Up With That. Anthony writes in his essay as copied below with his permission that, “it is one of those seminal moments where I think a bridge has been created in the climate debate, and I hope you’ll seize the moment and embrace it.”

My own thoughts are that this video is well worth viewing and provides the opportunity to reflect. I haven't always agreed with all that Dr. Savory says, but he has over the years made an important contribution to the improvement of beef production systems and an understanding of its interaction with the environment especially strong evidence that refutes demands that livestock must be removed from ecosystems. Where Dr. Savory   and the Savory Institute have gone beyond the realms of where I can agree is when they wish to introduce arbitrary and undefined concept of  sustainable beef production and also their involvement in the Global roundtable of sustainable beef.
Anthony Watts continues: A bridge in the climate debate – How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change


Imagine, shooting 40,000 elephants to prevent the land in Africa from going to desert because scientists thought the land couldn’t sustain them, only to find the effort was for naught and the idea as to why was totally wrong. That alone was a real eye opener

The Sahara Desert in Africa, as seen from space – Image NASA

Every once in awhile, an idea comes along that makes you ask, “gee why hasn’t anybody seen this before?”. This one of those times. This video below is something I almost didn’t watch, because my concerns were triggered by a few key words in the beginning. But, recommended by a Facebook friend, I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did, because I want every one of you, no matter what side of the climate debate you live in, to watch this and experience that light bulb moment as I did. The key here is to understand that desertification is one of the real climate changes we are witnessing as opposed to some the predicted ones we often fight over.
It is one of those seminal moments where I think a bridge has been created in the climate debate, and I hope you’ll seize the moment and embrace it. This video comes with my strongest possible recommendation, because it speaks to a real problem, with real solutions in plain language, while at the same time offering true hope.
This is a TED talk by Dr. Allan Savory in Los Angeles this past week, attended by our friend Dr. Matt Ridley, whose presentation we’ll look at another time. Sometimes, TED talks are little more that pie in the sky; this one is not. And, it not only offers a solution, it shows the solution in action and presents proof that it works. It makes more sense than anything I’ve seen in a long, long, time. Our friend Dr. Roger Pielke Sr., champion of studying land use change as it affects local and regional climate will understand this, so will our cowboy poet Willis Eschenbach, who grew up on a cattle ranch. I daresay some of our staunchest critics will get it too.
To encapsulate the idea presented, I’ll borrow from a widely used TV commercial and say:
Beef, its what’s for climate
You can call me crazy for saying that after you watch this presentation. A BIG hat tip to Mark Steward Young for bringing this to my attention.

“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.
Published on Mar 4, 2013

There’s a longer version with more detail below, about an hour long. Also worth watching if you want to understand the process in more detail:
Feasta Lecture 2009
Extracts available at
Allan Savory argued that while livestock may be part of the problem, they can also be an important part of the solution. He has demonstrated time and again in Africa, Australia and North and South America that, properly managed, they are essential to land restoration. With the right techniques, plant growth is lusher, the water table is higher, wildlife thrives, soil carbon increases and, surprisingly, perhaps four times as many cattle can be kept.
Recorded 7 November 2009, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland


  1. Where do the 25,000 sheep in the Dr Allan Savory video get their daily water from, to stay alive in already desertification affected areas?

  2. John C, In the video the reference to 25,000 sheep comes from Patagonia in South America. I can't tell you about that specific location where the water came from.
    It could be underground water as in Australia's extraordinary asset, the Great Artesian Basin. There may have been surface storage already there as in farm dams. You got to remember that water runs off of bare earth, so by having gully dams you can capture that water.
    I know that ground cover has a 5 times affect on your ability to store moisture in the ground. if the land is bare, most of the water will run away. If you have 1kg ground cover per square metre you will retain 5 litres of water. If you have 5 kg ground cover per square metre, you retain 25 litres of water per sq m.

  3. Dale,
    My brief post above did not say enough.
    I was meaning that if the Dr Allan Savory concept involves 25,000 sheep put into a desert to make plant life return, were would such a mob get water and feed from to stay alive at the time of going onto such bare desert?
    A desert is a desert, without feed and water sufficient for stock as you know.
    Feed and water is essential for stock to drop dung as you also know.
    Seed is usually missing in desert, unless it comes in the first drop of dung.
    Instead of using live-stock I think it might be best to drop fertilizer-pelleted seed by air but then who pays for that to bring back whole desert areas?
    Then there is need for a rainmaker or two!
    Israel has been bringing back desert with irrigation but that too costs money.
    I agree with your reply as above.
    All food for thought.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Gosh, I really stuffed up my spelling there, something i always try to be very careful about. So, multi apologies to Dr Allan Savory :-(
      I think Dale's comment below on climatic regions at which the process is aimed, is very good. My 'incremental' comment then relates to how an under - way process can be grown.
      Cheers al

    3. Hi John CF, with due respect, have you watched all of the Savory presentation? It's an incremental process, and obviously nothing will return bare earth to verdant grassland pasture in one easy step. (I know you appreciate that, and am not intending to be 'smart').

      I understand that my old Uni mate Viv Forbes has been successfully applying the Savory principles for many years, no doubt with his own 'tweaks' as he too is a natural innovator, with great results.
      As always, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. For me, one of the most telling aspects of the Savory presentation was the incredible speed with which flooding, with attendant saturation of expossed soil, even given great runoff, almost overnight resulted in that bare soil giving up all its temporarily captured water, simply due to heat and evaporation. Nowhere else to go! :-(
      Cheers al

  4. That initial kick off to start turning things around would not be easy. Firstly Savory defines desertification as any land that isn't humid or wet all year around that is loosing ground cover. Remember the statement don't look across a field of grass; look down in it. So by this definition grassland that looks fine to you as you speed pass in your car could well be in decline.
    But what about the country that is totally denuded. I can't remember enough from the Holistic Management workshop that I attended 12 years ago to answer off the top of my head. But it could well be that by in the first pass making pock marks with the hooves is enough to retain that extra bit of water to start that first bit of grass back again.

  5. Hello Alan M. I heard you spilt a drop in your keyboard. Still on it eh. No need to reply TIC.
    I saw the video through but must have missed his definition of desertification. Isn't humid or wet all year round and losing ground cover sounds like most land. I don't mean to be pedantic, it's managing stock west of the Paroo and in hard NT country that has me thinking about how so many head would be watered while getting to the site and staying and getting back to where they came from. All the work handling plus stress on animals being moved, plus the cost, is a puzzle to me how it can be achieved.
    From what I understand from seeing paddocks lose their ground cover, it has been du to constant flogging that removes the seed, slowly but surely as the flogging continues.
    To me the answer is bags of native seed on hand with an aircraft after soaking rain.
    Then a good spell for a number of years.

    1. No offence taken. It wasn't a drop, it was a large glass. Of tonic water ;-(
      Cheers al

    2. Well Al at least you are being honest telling us about the water part of it. Was it strong? Lucky it didn't catch on fire!
      And what ever happened to sometimes burning off to promote growth, where does that fit into the Savory concept, or has science now changed that idea? I wonder where Indonesia fits in with all their burning off that often chokes Malaysia with smoke. After they burn there is enough nutrients to get one crop in 5 years. Maybe Timor Leste was all jungle previously but now it seems to have a lot of virtually bare ground.
      Best regards Al,

    3. John CF, Tonic water has many real benefits, including control of 'night cramps' (it's the quinine). And no doubt as a key ingredient for Gin Slings etc. But old chap, I chase the purely medicinal values. I'm a wine and beer man, not into spirits at all, really ;-)

      Now, I really doubt that you paid rigid attention to that whole Allan Savory presentation, as he addresses, and dismisses, burning off as a remedy of ongoing value. It is a bit long, so perhaps he lulled you off? ;-)
      Cheers alan m

    4. He set me thinking in many different directions while e kept talking. And as you know it's difficult to do two tings at once, such as thinking while listening and watching as he keeps talking. I don't have time to study that video at present. Sorry if I wasted anyone's time.

    5. No you're not, you devil!! ;-)
      Cheers al

    6. The devil is in the hot stuff, never mind the tonic.
      Be aware from my post there with a few h letters missing. That is just one of the problems I now have since I 'updated' to Windows 8.


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