Allan Savory gave his electrifying presentation on Holistic Management this past week TED's first big conference of 2013. Given the "one presentation per day" release schedule of TED, Mr. Savory's talk must have been considered "jaw dropping, inspiring, and persuasive" enough by attendees to warrant such an early publication.
As you may know, I have been on a Holistic Management stint recently and I decided I should keep writing about it until this talk. I will probably write about it in the future, but after this diary it will be some time before I dedicate entire diaries to the subject.
Join me over the fold for Allan Savory's talk.
Last Time Here...
My last diary in this series tackled four of the most popular agroecological ideologies in an effort to clarify the distinctions between them as well as highlight their similarities. Earlier this year I posted two diaries specifically about Holistic Management. The first of these two featured a quick definition of agroecology as a science and went into greater detail with a lecture delivered by Allan Savory. It was a very long diary and I followed it with a "Compendious Edition" about a month later.
First, Some Context
Although I have previously written, at length, about Holistic Management, I feel that it is appropriate to offer some context for the attention-grabbing quote from the headline:
At 12:00 into the talk, Mr. Savory begins to deliver his "only one option left" sandwich to the audience. But before you balk and begin to sound like Kyle's mom in South Park (safe for work, but turn down the volume), let me provide the context.
There is no other alternative left to mankind
Allan Savory is NOT proclaiming that Holistic Management is the only solution for climate change. NOR is he saying that Holistic Management (from now on, HM) is appropriate everywhere all the time.
What he is saying is that HM is the only option we have at this time to reverse desertification of the world's grasslands. This is the case simply because grasslands need herbivores to survive. By removing herbivores (which are in many, if not most, cases going to be ruminants) from grasslands we slowly kill them. And when they die, they become deserts. Mr. Savory focuses on livestock in HM because the "former herds" of wild animals are not large enough to restore the world's grasslands at this time.
There seems to be this mistaken belief that we must have either HM or natural herds acting out their evolutionary behavior. This is not true. We can at once manage our domesticated animals holistically and allow native animals to return to grasslands at the same time.
If you are still wondering what HM is, please either a) watch the following video, b) refer to my previous two diaries on the subject, or c) conduct some research for yourself.
"How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change"
I have embedded the YouTube version of this talk simply because TED's embed code does not work. If you would like to watch it on TED, here is the link.
I am not going to give a run down of his presentation because I think I have treated the subject with enough depth (although not nearly as deep as possible) in my previous work. What I wish to do with the remainder of this diary is to preempt a couple of the most popular criticisms of HM.
One of the greatest concerns of the public is this fact: cattle emit copious amounts of methane. This is true. I have addressed this in the comments section of both my diaries on HM and wish to republish what I said then:
In regards to methane, here is a study regarding pre-Columbian methane from wild species in the geographical area of the USA:I should also mention that Bill McKibben (a [local!] climate hero IMO) has studied HM and (although he mistakenly confounds it with rotational grazing) had this to say:1
Overall, methane emissions from bison, elk, and deer in the pre-settlement period in the contiguous United States were about 70% (medium bison population size) of the current emissions from farmed ruminants in the U.S.;
Whether or not the grasslands are inhabited by domesticated species or wild ones, plenty of methane is going to be emitted. Since grasslands require herbivores for health in humid regions and survival in dry/brittle ones, I don't think the issue of them emitted methane is anything to be worried about.
If the choice is between dead grasslands which will turn into deserts to avoid methane emissions and rejuvenated ecosystems inhabited by ruminants- be they wild or domestic- I know which I would choose in a heart beat.
The fact of the matter is, grasslands need herbivores. And they have been inhabited by herbivores for thousands upon thousands of years- vast herds emitted methane close to if not equal to the level we see now from domesticated herds. As far as I know, the climate didn't warm uncontrollably then either. Probably because these healthy ecosystems were storing so much atmospheric carbon that it offset the greenhouse emissions from the herbivores.
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. [emphasis added[Mr. Savory mentions in this latest talk that there have been studies (which have their own pitfalls to be sure) that suggest if we implement HM on half of the world's grasslands that we would be able to reduce atmospheric carbon to pre-industrial levels.
Not only do we have a well respected climate scientist, for all intents and purposes, giving the green light to HM, but we have studies strongly indicating that a dramatic- no- paradigm shifting reduction in atmospheric carbon is possible with these techniques.2
The second most popular criticism is the fear that HM advocates for the status quo when it comes to meat consumption. HM is not about making sure that humans can consume meat 3 or more times per day. HM is about mimicking nature to restore grasslands because we have dislocated and destroyed the native herds which used to perform these tasks. While some may perceive HM as an answer to their prayers regarding meat consumption, let me make it clear that HM practitioners are very much in the fore in the fight against industrial farming and listening to nature.
After all, HM is intensely focused on observation. The 400% increase in livestock at the site in this talk was not chosen purely out of thin air. It requires careful observation and experience to make decisions about stocking rates. The 400% increase in stocking rate is much different than a 400% increase in the number of animals in the ecosystem to begin with. We are talking about dramatically increasing the number of animals in one place at a certain time (and for certain lengths of time) rather than a general "we need more livestock."
I personally believe that we need to reduce our consumption of animals and animal products if we are to have any hope of combating climate change. We need to eliminate factory farming of animals and return them, where appropriate, to the landscape for their ecological services they provide. We very well may have to reduce the overall population of livestock. I should also note that with the elimination of factory farming, we will absolutely need to continue and expand the work of breeding livestock for a more natural way of life. Simply turning the cattle already on the feedlots back onto the prairies they grew up is not the best option. So yes, there is plenty of work ahead of us.
1. It is my personal belief that he is mistakes rotational grazing for HM in his article because rotational grazing, without proper planning, has been repeatedly shown to not provide the same benefits as HM. This is because HM is much more than rotational grazing, a point I make in my last diary.
2. Check out Adam Sacks' article on HM- he has many references. Also see the resource list compiled by Seth Itzkan under "Additional Resources" at the end of this diary. Both of these were included in my second diary on HM.
I hope you enjoyed this talk. As usual, I want to remind folks that I have nothing against ethical reasons for choosing to limit or abandon one's own consumption of meat. At the same time, I think it is incredibly important that we set our own personal moral code aside and examine the reality: grasslands require their herbivorous symbiots to survive and thrive. We have completely disturbed the natural behavior and now must employ biomimicry- at least for now- to reverse the damage done.
Like it or not, industrial man has wrecked havoc upon the biosphere. HM is not the only option, globally, for combating climate change. But it is the best option we have to restore the grasslands of the world. It is not appropriate everywhere, but the principles can be applied even in humid regions (see the Salatin's Polyface farm). We cannot magically increase the population of wild ruminants to their pre-decimation levels over night. Even if we could, the process of removing man from the land we have taken would take even longer than breeding them! While I am all in favor of returning much of these grasslands to their former, pre-livestock condition, I think it will take time.
Implementing HM globally is just one of many steps along the way to patching up this biosphere with the parts we have yet to eliminate.
Seth Itzkan has put together a very good reference list for Holistic Management, here.
Excellent, must see documentary: John Liu's Green Gold- extended version of "Hope in a Changing Climate" that was presented at the recent Rio summit. I'll have to do a diary on this documentary. It is astounding.
There are some excellent video presentations from 2011's International Permaculture Convergence held in Jordan, which followed a permaculture design course taught at the world-renowned "Greening the Desert Part II" site in the Dead Sea Valley. Here is a link to the documentary about the site, and here is a photo update from 2011 (around the time of the Convergence). John Liu's Green Gold also features the site and is probably newer than the 2011 pictures. If you scroll to the bottom of this webpage, you will find links to video presentations given at the convergence. Most were delivered in Bedouin tents near Wadi Rum.
You can also find a few more great documentaries in the first diary of this series- one about rainforest restoration to provide habitat for orangutans and a standard of living for the local people using agroecological methods as well as a documentary about Sepp Holzer, a very famous Austrian noted for his ability to cultivate citrus in the Alps.
My favorite books:
Edible Forest Gardens, Vol I and II. David Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Chelsea Green, 2006.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer, translated by Anna Sapsford-Francis. Chelsea Green, 2010.
Gaia's Garden. Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, 2009 (2nd edition).
Let the Water Do the Work. Bill Zeedyk and Van Clother. The Quivira Coalition, 2009.
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka. Link will point you to a decent review.
Akinori Kimura's Miracle Apples. By Takuji Ishikawa, translated by Yoko Ono. This is an absolutely fantastic story. My favorite part is towards the end, chapter 22, when Kimura is told of his family's first success. Give it a read!
For a much fuller list of books on the subject, see Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Reading List. The article I linked to up top is also a great read.
There are plenty of materials online as well.
The Permaculture Research Institute is excellent (Updated: formerly PRI Australia). With almost daily updates from the world of permaculture (an ethical design system that utilizes agroecology), this site is on my "must check list" daily. Good news to be found here.
The Land Institute. Their goal is to develop highly productive perennial staple crops which will produce a living system as stable as natural prairies. This is the kind of pioneering research we should be funding. H/T to sfinx for bringing them up.