Back in the 1950s, Allan Savory made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. As a young biologist assigned to set aside vast areas of lands for future National Parks in Africa, he was involved in moving indigenous people off their land. Shortly thereafter the land began to deteriorate. After studying the situation, Allan Savory determined that large herds of elephants were over grazing the land and something needed to be done. As a result, 40,000 elephants were killed. The land continued to deteriorate at an increasing rate. Mr. Savory, to this day regrets this decision. In his own word, he expresses his love for elephants and says that he will take this to his grave. He tells this story in the video linked below.
Since then, Allan Savory has dedicated his life to finding the solution to the increasing desertification of grasslands. For me, his discovery of why the earth’s lands are turning into deserts, and how nature can heal itself with our help is one of the most hopeful remedies to stop global warming where it stands now. If we begin to implement his ideas now on a grand scale, it is possible to reduce the carbon dioxide levels to preindustrial times, and this cure can happen quickly, 10-20 years. It is also vastly important that we take action quickly because increasing desertification is causing, starvation, poverty, disease, and warfare particularly in Africa, right now. This will become a worldwide condition if we don’t heal the earth, in this case, literally the ground we walk on.
Some of the greatest solutions to our problems are often so very simple, and this is one of those eloquent solutions. Allan Savory discovered that what was needed to restore the grasslands were large herds of animal moving along the grassland, never staying in one place too long. They moved because they were not interested in eating their own fertilizing deposits, and they were also not interested in getting eaten, so they bunched together for protection, moving across the savannas, and running from one place to another when threatened, leaving the land able to restore itself. They didn’t eat too much, they fertilized it, some pooped seeds, and they churned and dug holes in the earth allowing water to be captured.
A healthy grassland results in carbon rich soil. Other than the obvious benefits noted above, it is the carbon rich soils that disappear when lands are overgrazed, when agricultural practices leave the soil bare, when droughts occur, and with deforestation. Where does the carbon go? Into our atmosphere where it binds with oxygen (CO2).
Life exists because of carbon: carbon starved earth is dead, and, therefore, nothing grows. If lands are left bare, carbon leaches out of the soil and adds to the CO2 levels in our atmosphere. Without plants the CO2 level rises because the Carbon Cycle is broken.
Most of us have heard that the rainforests are the lungs of the earth. Indeed. One can add to this by saying all plants are the lungs of the earth. Breaking the carbon cycle destroys the recycling of both carbon and oxygen.
Everyone whom took science classes in high school, learned about the carbon cycle, though ones memory like mine may be rusty. The simplified version, which we all learned was that plants breath in carbon dioxide. With the help of the sun, energy is transferred to the plant. Chlorophyll (why plants are green), is where photosynthesis takes place, resulting in separating the Carbon and Oxygen molecules. The Oxygen is returned to the atmosphere, and the carbon is stored in the plant and in the soil where it stays inert. The same thing happens in the ocean, however phytoplankton takes the place of the plant. Phytoplankton respiration releases the oxygen back to the air, and their decomposition, returns the carbon to the ocean.
Both Adam Savory and Judith D. Schwartz (Cows Save The Earth) discuss how we can return carbon to the soil without the naturally occurring large herds and their predators. Enter cows and sheep. This practice has been tested many times and it works. Ms Schwartz, explains the process the following way. Cows are the hole diggers and fertilizers: they are the catalyst that begin the processes needed to heal the soil. A “microscopic choreography comes into play. Worms, insects and microorganisms like fungi and bacteria aerate the ground, decompose waste, exchange nourishment (mycorrhizal fungi take glucose from plants and in return help plants assimilate nutrients), and break down rocks into mineral like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc that are essential to our health. (Cows Save The Planet, 2013, p 3).” Termites play the same role as earthworms in marginal or arid lands. If you have read Yacouba Sawadogo story on this blog, The Man Who Stopped the Desert, you will recall that Yacouba knew that if he dug holes and place dung in them, termites would find there way to these holes and begin to dig tunnels which capture water during the rainy season. The water was retained by surrounding these area with berms. In each of these holes, trees were planted. The end result was that he stopped the Sahara Desert from taking over his town. This is now practiced in many such areas.
Initially, Allan Savory didn’t like domesticated cattle, however, they are proving to be an invaluable resource to restoring the grasslands. The Massai are a nomadic people living in Southern Kenya and Tanzania. They herd their cows in bunches continually moving them. This mimics nature in that the Massai take the place of the predators The Massai protect their cattle from predators by housing them overnight in pens. As a result of this practice, the land stays healthy.
There are many testimonials given by people using this and similar methods: both environmental and economical benefits are evident. One rancher noted how his land, The Two Dot Lane and Livestock Company in Harlowton Wyoming, now contained hundreds of new plant species along with a diverse and abundant wildlife population. During the 2011 flood in Harlowton, his parcel was the only one that didn’t suffer from flooding and erosion as the land was able to absorb the water. The soil is now carbon rich.
Soil restoration can and needs to be done everywhere — watersheds, in one’s community, in an abandoned field. These could be community projects.
There are many more stories of this kind. Do support this endeavor, I believe this can help to save our planet. Check it out for yourself. The Savory Institute and Holistic Planned Grazing. Know that by my talking about this method as a solution to global warming, I am not suggesting that we ignore the problems of using fossil fuels. We need to continue inventing, creating, and implementing clean energy technology. All efforts to clean up our earth are important, including picking up our litter.
“Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it (Vedic Scriptures, around 1500 BC).”
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself.”
Some statistics and other problems related to a carbon dead soil. Unless noted, the following comes from Cows Save The Planet (CSTP).
- According to Savory, two thirds of the world’s grassland have disappeared “causing traditional grazing societies to descend into chaos.”
- The depletion rate of topsoil is ten times in the U.S. and forty times in China faster than it is generated, some 83 billion tons a year.
- Carbon dead soil affects the minerals necessary for health. For example, since the 1960s, calicium in apples has decreased by 50%: phosphorus, iron, and magnesium more than an 80% reduction. What once was “An apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away” now requires four or five apples a day.
- “Every 1% increase in soil carbon holds an additional 60,000 gallons of water per acre.” Limits damage from erosion and supports microbial life (CSTP, p 6).
- Messing up the carbon cycle messes up the water cycle, nutrient cycle, and energy cycle.
- Carbon dioxide level in 2016 was 400 parts per million (first time in recorded history)- above 350 ppm the climate becomes destabilized.
- Between 1989 and 2008 soil respiration increased by about 0.1% per year Bond-Lamberty, B. & Thomson, A. Nature 464, 579-582 (2010) In 2008, the global total of CO2 released from the soil reached roughly 98 billion tonnes, about 10 times more carbon than humans are now putting into the atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuel.
- “In the past 150 years between 50 and 80 percent of organic carbon in the topsoil has gone airborne(CSTP. p 12).”
- Savory and others believe that if we restore 1/2 of the world’s grassland, the CO2 levels would be lowered to pre-industrial concentrations.
- Last, it does need to be said that the methane issue associated with cows burbs and farts are not a problem. Though methane is a green house gas, it breakdowns very quickly in the atmosphere. Furthermore, large concentration of methane measured at feedlots are due to how cow manure is collected and stored
Holistic Planned Grazing is an additional way toward stopping our planet from becoming uninhabitable. Perhaps it may even heal some of the damages that have been done. I don’t want us, our species, to be the one’s that created near total annihilation of our one and only home in this segment of the universe. Let nature keep that job.
With love and respect to all.
Addendum: I have recently learned (early 2019), that a new generation of ranchers and farmers are using Savory’s ideas, only they call it No Till Farming and Cover Farming. I don’t know if many of these people have ever heard Mr. Savory.
These advents are similar yet quite different in technique, however, the results are similar, i.e. increasing the productivity of the land, the enrichment of the soil (carbon now where it belongs, in the soil,. and the return of many beneficial insects, bird and animal populations etc..
It is not difficult to imagine that these ideas have come to be practiced for a few reasons. These people are environmentalists as they are keen observers of the land, of what works and does’t work.
Despite their love of the land, overtime, their livelihoods became increasingly threatened due to poor soil management. They had focused their attention above the ground, their crops, but they hadn’t paid any attention to what was happening under the ground. Many probably didn’t have a clue about the Carbon Cycle. I don’t know. All I know is that they were ripe for new ideas, and new ideas were in the ether–initially Adam Savoy’s.