The Climate Mechanisms of World Deserts and Limitations in Allan Savory’s thesis.

Guest post by Dr. Tim Ball – a response to this WUWT post on Allan Savory

Dr Allan Savory proposes stopping desertification and controlling climate change. His focus is a large natural vegetation area called grasslands. His idea of raising cattle to maintain grasslands is founded on the grazing and fertilizing cycle provided by herbivores. Bermuda Grass is an example of a grassland plant species that thrives on being constantly cropped. It grows thick and dense the more it is cut, making it ideal for golf greens. Savory’s ideas all sound attractive and ‘green’ and not without some merit, but are riddled with problems. It is not clear, indeed unlikely, that his proposals would measurably alter natural climate change.

Watching his presentation I imagined all the ‘environmentalists’ recoiling at his suggestions. It is not long since radical environmentalists like Jeremy Rifkin were blaming cattle for most of the evils of western society in his 1992 book, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture. True, Savory showed sheep, but he should also have introduced the idea of restocking some areas with natural herds, such as bison in North America. These areas would become world funded preservation areas of natural species as George Perkins Marsh proposed in his 1864 book Man and Nature. Marsh was also among the first in modern times to idenitfy the relationship between removal of vegetation and desertification.

The major conflict is between domesticated and wild herbivores and the production of foodstuffs. This included growing grains to feed the cattle or overgrazing. Presumably, Savory is suggesting domesticated animals to also expand the food supply. The problem is expansion of the food supply usually creates an increase in the human population, which Savory says is at the heart of the world’s problems.

Savory’s Assumptions

He makes three major assumptions, all arguable. First is the claim the world is overpopulated. It is not! People, apparently including Savory, believe it is because of the neo-Malthusian claim underlying the alarmism of the Club of Rome in the 1970s. Claims of overpopulation primarily came from Paul Ehrlich’s work, but his predictions were so inaccurate it’s a wonder he retains any credibility. The reason the ideas remain is probably because supporters of his ideas are in positions of power today. For example, Ehrlich’s co-author of a truly frightening book Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment is President Obama’s Science Tsar, John Holdren. In addition, graduates of 1979s and 1980s environmental studies programs are now running the bureaucracies using those ideas.

The second error is his identification of land ‘suffering’ from desertification. Savory identifies five regions on a world map (Figure 1). He is using the term desertification as it evolved back in the 1970s, that is as an environmental problem caused by humans. The problem is almost all the regions he identifies are natural climatic regions of desert and grasslands. He says there is “no other cause” than humans for desertification, which is only true because of his definition. In a 2005 work, “The causes and progression of desertification,” Geist identified more than 100 definitions. Any region that loses vegetation becomes a desert, which happens all the time as climate changes. If you don’t know how much change is due to natural causes you can’t determine the human portion. It is the same as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) examining only human causes of climate change without knowing how much it changes naturally.

The third error he makes, is to assume climate change is new and caused by humans. It isn’t. The amount of change is well within natural variability, but the IPCC and its proponents persistently work to prove it is outside and therfore unnatural. Savory is apparently vulnerable to the “human cause” claim because he blames humans for desertification.

Basic Arid Zone Pattern

The trouble is it appears Savory lacks some basic understandings including;

• how deserts are formed and change with climate change,

• how or why the major hot deserts are generally located within 15 to 35° of latitude each side of the Equator and,

• how grasslands are a transitional area of slightly higher precipitation that surround the deserts and lie between the deserts and the forests. Grassland names differ from Steppe in Russia; Great Plains in the US and their northern extension the Prairies in Canada; Llanos in northern South America; Pampas in southern South America; to Savanna and Veldt in Africa.

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Figure 1: Areas of desertificcation identified by Allan Savory

Source: Screen Capture from his presentation

The Sahel is just such a transitional region between the rainforest on the coast of west Africa and the true desert of the Sahara. Alarmist stories appeared about the expanding Sahara desert associated with the cyclical Sahelian drought that visited the region between 1968 and 1974. Famine accompanied the drought and overgrazing was blamed. It, and another drought in 1984-85, launched the environmental career of Bob Geldof.

A similar desertification situation was identified in the Thar desert on the Indian-Pakistan border in the 1970s, with claims the area wasn’t totally ‘natural’ but created by overgrazing, especially by the ubiquitous goat. University of Wisconsin climatologist Reid Bryson theorized that removal of vegetation cover increased surface temperatures, which caused increase convection and advection (wind). Resulting soil erosion and winds carried dust to altitude. Here it absorbed sunlight directly, raising upper air temperatures while reducing surface heating. Warm air over cold is an inversion, a very stable situation that prevents cloud formation, thus perpetuating the aridity. As I recall, much money was spent on bringing water into the region to plant grasses and stabilize the surface to break the cycle. The grass promoted was Marram, a well known sand dune stabilizer.

World Hot Deserts and Grasslands

It is impossible to get even crude estimates of the percentage of land surface that is grassland or desert. Land is 149 million km2 of the Earth’s total surface and hot deserts make-up an estimated 15 to 30 percent (Figure 2). The Sahara provides a scale because it is 9.1 million km2, almost identical to the land area of the US. The hot deserts of the world in order (millions of km2) are;

Sahara – 9.1

Central Asia – 4.5

Australian – 3.4

North American – 1.3

Patagonian – 0.7

Indian – 0.6

Kalahari – Namib 0.57

Atacama – 0.36

The word ‘hot’ is in bold because, as Koppen (Figures 4 and 5) recognized in his climate classification system, there are vast cold deserts. The North and South poles are among the driest places on Earth.

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Figure 2. Major hot deserts generally straddling the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

In his system, Koppen identified “B” climates primarily as those with insufficient ‘effective’ precipitation to support trees (BS for Steppe climate) then grass (BW desert climate). He further divided BW climates into BWh (coldest month average above 0°C) and BWk (at least one month average below 0°C). When doing a Koppen classification you begin by eliminating the B climates. Savory lumps them together as shown in Figure 1.

Estimates for grassland are more variable than for deserts varying from 15 to 40 percent of the land surface, excluding Antarctica and Greenland. Savory showed, unknowingly, why defining grasslands is so difficult. He showed clumps of grass with bare ground in between, implying they were examples of desertification. The problem is such conditions are natural and exist over very large areas with grasses known as tussock.

The sun is directly overhead the equator twice a year and is never more than approximately 23.5° from the vertical. This results in maximum heat energy and therefore high year round temperatures. It creates what was known as the “heat equator”, which, because of land water differences is not coincident with the actual Equator. Belem on the Amazon in the interior of Brazil has a range of 1.6°C from the warmest to the coolest month.

High temperatures result in high evaporation and rising warm air. The vertical air currents mean very little horizontal surface wind, a problem in sailing days. English sailing ships recorded the conditions and from their records George Hadley, in 1753, figured out his circulation cell (Figure 3). Clouds develop daily and result in heavy rainfall almost daily. Duitenzorg, Java, averages 322 days a year with thunderstorms.

The warm air rises to the tropopause where it is now cold, dense and dry. Deflected away from the Equator it descends. As it descends increasing pressure creates adiabatic warming. By the time it reaches the surface it is hot and dry. The amount of moisture is the same but chances of condensation and cloud formation is virtually zero. Average relative humidity for the Sahara is approximately 19%. Water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas and low levels in desert region mean the ground and air heat and cool very rapidly. Cloud cover in the Sahara varies from about 10% in winter to 4% in summer.

The highest shade temperatures in the world occur such as 58°C in Libya and 56.7°C in Death Valley, California. At In-Salah, Algeria, the temperature dropped from an afternoon high of 52.2°C to an overnight low of –3.3°C, a range of 55.5°C in about 12 hours. These conditions mean the air holds less water vapour, but the air temperature drops well below the dew point temeprature thus creating condensation.

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Figure 3. Hadley Cell circulation has air rising at the equator and descending between 15 and 30° latitude. A similar cell exists for the Southern Hemisphere.

Heated air at the equator creates low pressure, the Equatorial Low, while descending air creates high pressure in the subtropics, the Subtropical Highs.

The pattern of high rainfall at the Equator and deserts in the Low Latitudes is disturbed by the land/water distribution and influence of ocean currents. The greatest disturbance occurs in eastern Africa and Asia so the desert zone extends through Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and western China. Low latitude landmass in the southern hemisphere is restricted but includes southern Africa, Australia and South America. In South America the Andes Mountains block the extension of the deserts across the entire continent. However, where they exist on the coast they are among the driest on earth.

Savory refers to the rock paintings of herd animals in the central Sahara. They occur there because of climate change when increased rainfall supported grasslands. During the last Ice Age the Polar climate zones expanded pushing the mid latitude temperate climates toward the Equator. Traditional climate referred to the wetter periods in the desert zones that were coincident with Glacials as Pluvials. When the Earth warmed to Interglacials, as now, the desert regions experience Interpluvials.

Swings between Pluvial and Interpluvial are macro climate changes, however smaller changes are occurring all the time. As a result, the pattern of climates shown in Figures 4 and 5 are averages and constantly changing.

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Figure 4: Koppen classification The Americas.

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Figure 5: Koppen classification Africa, Eurasia and Australia

The Sahel is shown as BSh or hot grassland right across Africa on the south side of the Sahara (BWh). In addition to the longer term climate changes, cyclical changes in precipitation cause drought cycles such as the one from 1968 to 1974. Australia is another large classic region of desert (BWh) surrounded by semi-arid grassland (BSh).

Importance of Condensation

Savory draws attention to the potential of condensation moisture in the semi arid areas. This is not new, as people for centuries have gathered condensation moisture. I grew up near the dry chalk lanscape of Salisbury Plain and learned early about “dew ponds”. Gilbert White, a renowned 18th century English naturalist, described the ecology around Selbourne. He described a dew pond near the village as “…only 3 feet deep and 30 feet in diameter, that contained some 15,000 gallons of water which supplied 300 sheep and cattle every day without fail.”

In many dry regions people put xerophytic plants close to large rocks, which provide sufficient overnight condensation to maintain the plant. On a larger scale, ancient Greeks built large pyramids of rock from which condensation trickled down to a network of clay collection pipes. Called air wells, they are a well known technique. There were 13 such pyramids up to 12 meters high near the ancient Greek city of Theodosia on the Black Sea.

Savory is correct, condensation is the forgotten moisture, as I described a few years ago and more recently repeated here. The issue was the difference between official predictions of poor yields and the actual average or better yields on the Canadian Prairies. In the late summer of that 1980s year, daytime temperatures were high, generally 27-28°C, which meant it could hold lots of moisture. At night, temperatures dropped to record lows around 3-5°C and moisture deposition was heavy. In a three-week period this yields upward of 50 mm of precipitation equivalent. Farmers know that amount of moisture can be critical to “fill out” a crop. It has several advantages over normal precipitation. It occurs at night when heat stress on the plant is reduced. Evaporation is reduced. Distribution is more even and widely distributed than rainfall. Unfortunately, it is not moisture counted in the weather statistics used by all the experts. Ironically, it’s moisture farmers know about because, until it evaporates, it can delay harvesting.”

Savory’s method can take advantage of the moisture, but it will only produce grasses in the natural grassland regions he defines. To change true desert (BWh) to grassland requires much larger volumes of water than condensation provides.

It is not clear how his proposal will stop climate change. Presumably, he assumes changing the surface will change the albedo, which will change the energy balance. The problem is there is not much difference in albedo between desert, which ranges from 15 to 45, and grassy fields with ranges10 to 30. The desert range is wide because deserts are only partially sand dunes. The dune areas known as Erg are higher albedo, but are a small percentage of a desert. The much larger, lower albedo, area is the hamada or rock strewn areas that are 70 percent of the Sahara.

Savory’s comment about the importance of microclimates is more critical than he realizes. Most vegetation, and certainly the grasses, grow in the 1.25 m below the Stevenson Screen, the official weather station. The climate below that level is markedly different, as Geiger identified in his marvelous 1950 book, The Climate Near the Ground. Any attempt at planning or changing conditions in this portion of the Biosphere requires far more information than is currently available.

Change is the norm. Climate change is normal and current changes are well within natural variability. Allan Savory’s proposal to stabilize grassland areas has some merit, but requires much more understanding and context, especially about climate patterns and climate change mechanisms. Of course, as the world cools in the next few decades the colder climate zone will expand and the desert zone will shrink naturally. The grasslands will benefit from cooler wetter conditions as the natural cycles continue.

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105 thoughts on “The Climate Mechanisms of World Deserts and Limitations in Allan Savory’s thesis.

  1. Tim, a very well-thought-out and interesting discussion of the issues.

    I could only add that the GAEZ study has actually quantified the amount of grassland, as well as the area of hot and cold deserts.

    Next, I agree with you that while changes in animal husbandry can help revegetate some areas, it’s only at the margins. You won’t change Saharan barchan dunes into pastures just by adding cows …

    Having seen the destruction done by goats, on the other hand, I can testify that the reverse is true. You can change a forest into a desert …

    Next, I greatly appreciated your reference to my personal climate bible, Geiger’s “The Climate Near The Ground”. Wonderful book from a time when people took measurements instead of using computer model estimates …

    I also appreciated the nuance in your conclusion, viz:

    Allan Savory’s proposal to stabilize grassland areas has some merit, but requires much more understanding and context, especially about climate patterns and climate change mechanisms.

    Can’t say fairer than that …

    w.

  2. The way I read it, Allan Savory was more interested in returning what had been taken out, or perhpas in not taking out in the first place. Such as culling 40,000 elephants, then wondering why the area got poorer. Anywhere where people have tried to take charge of the land and “manage” it by removing what governments or scientists regarded at the time as “pests” generally backfires.

    He has shown good results over more than a decade, so there’s plenty of merit. It’s certainly far better than what we currently have, which is people blaming everything on global warming.

    As for “altering climate change” – natural or not, I didn’t get that it was about that at all. To me it was about letting desertification heal naturally. It was about greening the world by letting nature do its thing, and stopping unnatural desertification that is caused through humans thinking they can “control” an area by purging it of unwanted fauna. Not about climate. Not about true deserts. Not about change.

    Perhaps it was a “Hey, if you think desertification is about climate change, it’s not, look at this” kind of message. That was my take on it, that he was trying to appeal to people who blamed CO2 or global warming, whatever it’s called this week.

    People try to control the environment. I sure understand that when it comes to cities and farmland and our own slice of heaven in the bush (forest – sorry, I’m Australian), but when it comes to playing God over National Forests or Parks, or any sort of wilderness ecosystem, we always stuff up. Removing fauna in order to “protect” the land is one such stuff up that results in desertification in certain areas. Putting the the fauna back again solves the problem and we get better crops and lots of meat to eat. That’s what I got out of it. Win, win, win. :)

    Just my two cents worth.

  3. Savory also fails to consider how ecosystems build carrying capacity / standing crop to some optimum for any particular set of conditions and that carrying capacity is anything but stable in a changing environment. This is why we have natural boom and bust population cycles in temperate and edge “zones” but generally do not find comparable behaviors in “more stable” tropical rain forests.

  4. Savory’s practices (not so much theories) work well in marginal grassland.

    Quote
    Someone should tell the judges of all the ‘farmer of the year’ awards that Science disagrees with their choices: it has proved many times that grazing management is no better than continuous or set stocking. Nearly every time a grazier has won or been runner up in annual awards since 2007 they have nominated cell or rotational grazing management as a centerpiece of their farm plan. Yet science has been unable to confirm that they are making a difference to the health of their pastures, their animals and their landscapes.
    End Quote
    Read the rest at

    http://www.carbonfarmersofaustralia.com.au/_blog/Carbon_Farmers_Of_Australia_Blog/post/Grazing_Systems_don%E2%80%99t_work_Tell_the_Farmer_of_the_Year_/

  5. “Traditional climate referred to the wetter periods in the desert zones that were coincident with Glacials as Pluvials. When the Earth warmed to Interglacials, as now, the desert regions experience Interpluvials.”

    This is completely wrong and an obsolete terminology. Actually deserts grow during glaciations and shrink during interglacials. During the previous (warmer) interglacial Sahara virtually disappeared while during the last glaciation it almost reached to the Guinea Gulf. That was also when e. g. the Nebraska Sandhills was an actual desert.

  6. I took the following main point away from Savory’s talk:

    - In places where rainfall is sufficient to have grasslands where we currently have desert-like conditions, we can undo this process by using livestock to mimic the times when animal herds roamed wild.

    So while I appreciate that Dr. Ball believes Savory’s claims about the larger picture may be overstated (any that’s no surprise in the climate arena at all), using Savory’s methods to bring back grasslands where they can be supported is better than letting the deserts grow. I can’t see how desert is ever better than grassland in places where rain falls in sufficient quantity for grasslands.

    I think also unvoiced in Savory’s presentation is something that was barely mentioned – “no till” techniques to work land for food. I assumed this includes raising livestock on land. We greatly underappreciate the amount of CO2 tilling the soil adds to the air, so being that Savory is a guy that wants to reduce CO2 emissions, it seemed to me he saw this a big benefit to expanding the lands that can be used to raise livestock.

  7. thanx for the critique. adds to the debate. no-one has all the solutions:

    25 March: SMH: Bosch dumps solar business as losses mount
    German engineering company Bosch said it is abandoning its solar energy business, because there is no way to make it economically viable amid overcapacity and huge price pressure in the industry.
    The solar power industry has been hit by falling subsidies, weaker sales and increasingly stiff price competition, especially from Chinese manufacturers. Robert Bosch GmbH’s move, announced at the end of last week, came after German industrial conglomerate Siemens announced last October that it would give up its loss-taking solar business.
    Bosch said that it will stop making products such as solar cells, wafers and modules at the beginning of next year. It will sell a plant in Venissieux, France, and is abandoning a plan to build a new plant in Malaysia.
    The solar energy division, which employs about 3,000 people, lost around €1-billion ($1.25 billion) last year…

    http://www.smh.com.au/business/carbon-economy/bosch-dumps-solar-business-as-losses-mount-20130325-2gpo4.html

  8. Animal urine, feces and crushing all kill bermudagrass. It freezes off in the winter for several months and allows the growth of random weeds and it doesn’t have low moisture survival characteristics. The reason is survives in the warm tropics is because it ALWAYS has a source of moisture and can survive off of low saline mist.

    Potatoes are a better option.

  9. I agree with Willis. You can only change the ‘deserts’ around the margins and over grazing can be very destructive.

    As far as Bermuda Grass goes I had a bit of experience with Common Bermuda (viable seed) during the 2007 drought in NC. Yes my Bermuda and native grass pastures survived the drought while the cow pasture of Kentucky 31 Fescue across the street died deader than a door nail and had to be replanted. However the grass did not GROW. Bermuda survives drought by going dormant.

    May 2007 was very dry, 2.07 inches vs the normal May rainfall of 4.42 inches.

    The drought intensified quickly in June 2007 when D2 or Severe Drought was introduced USDM – June 5) into far northwest North Carolina across portions of Ashe and Watauga counties. Although the drought was confined to this extreme southwest corner of the Blacksburg HSA through much of mid-summer it expanded considerably during the very dry August of 2007. That month HSA average rainfall was only 1.63 inches with many stations recording less than 1 inch of rainfall. To make matters worse August 2007 was one of the hottest months ever recorded in this region…

    http://www.erh.noaa.gov/rnk/Newsletter/Spring_2009/drought/drought_07_09.html

    In my area what thunderstorms there were that summer missed us that year. It was very frustrating watching a storm heading straight for my farm and either head north as it came close or disappear altogether.

    Despite that we had cooler weather and a lot more rain that year than you get in a desert or even Texas. You are just not going to get growth without rain. That is why an Easterner figures one cowl per two acres and Texans figure one cow per couple of square miles.

  10. All the major deserts are a result of consistent climatic patterns, the more consistent the less variation. That’s why the Sahara, despite its size is more variable than the Atacama.

    Apart from the climate, only techtonic shifts cause minor deserts, a good example being the Okavango river which formerly fed the Makgadikgadi pan.

    To say that all previous civilizations ended because of climate change should have started the alarm bells ringing. Savory makes leaps of logic throughout his presentation, I like that he thinks out of the box, but wow – too much.

  11. Its a good idea to remove feral pests in marginal grazing land dotted with small bushes.
    On one place I worked in the Western division of NSW Australia, a plague of rabbits ringbarked all the bushes that provided cover for stock and native animals and the area reverted to grassland and dust bowl in drought under grazing pressure of cattle and sheep.
    Where scientists and governments urge control of rabbits, camels and off the subject, feral cats, I’m all in favour.

  12. The problem is expansion of the food supply usually creates an increase in the human population, which Savory says is at the heart of the world’s problems.

    Did I read this right? To paraphrase, is Dr Ball saying that the problem with Savory’s solution is that less people die of starvation?

  13. I have a 1969 book on deserts titled ‘The Great Deserts’ that I have had since a child that sparked a lifetime interest in deserts. Here is a quote from the book :
    - – -
    But a word of warning comes from the great American, Starker Leopold, who has observed:
    “Many of the deep wells being drilled today in deserts around the world are tapping water than can never be replaced. In parts of Baja California, and Sonora, short-term farming projects are being undertaken in the most unpromising creosote-bush desert, based on wells with a probable life span of only ten to fifteen years.”
    - – -
    So how did that go? 1979 to 1984 was his prediction for the wells life span.

  14. Elrich was totally wrong but there could be a point of overpopulation. I believe I’ve heard that 60% of the photosynthesis on earth goes to humans eventually. I doubt extremely that we are anywhere near a truly serious point of overpopulation and the same false assumptions about the technologies of today and the populations of tomorrow are certainly being made but being wrong in the 70′s is not a guarantee of being wrong today. (Unless you’re worried about catastrophic human caused climate shifts of course…)

    As well, in terms of hurting our own long term situation we may be nowhere in sight of overpopulation but it does seem like we are well into the territory of pushing out other species at a fair rate. That can be considered a worthy concern, for various reasons, if not one requiring draconian measures.

  15. This is an interesting discussion. Essentially, it comes down to whether the Hadley circulation necessarily causes true desert at one end, or there could just as well (in the same phase of, let’s say, an interglacial) be grassland. The ease at which grassland can flip to desert and vice versa (and the big seasonal changes in grassland every year) suggest that it may not be just top-down “global circulation” controlled how much actually grows there, but also bottom-up “vegetation, grazing/predation, microclimate” controlled as Savory claims. You can think that this is only relevant to desert margins, but that is just where we see the change happen; it does not mean that there should be real desert at all (since margins can shift). So where is the limit?

  16. Excellent as Usual Dr Ball.
    I do take issue with one statement at the beginning though:- More food means more humans. Not strictly true. Africa has a growing population due to a very high birth rate, though also a high child mortality rate, and poor food supply. The West has surplus food available and a small, stable birth rate. African birth rate is tied to child mortality rate, women want at least a couple of children to survive to adulthood, So to increase development, health care, food availability etc. to reduce child mortality rate will decrease the birth rate and population will level off.

  17. Savory is a mishmash of other people’s ideas, outright misrepresentation, a few good thoughts and CO2 nonsense. As Tim points out, he fudges the distinction, and the borders, between shifting marginal grasslands and true desert.

    ‘Reclaiming the desert’ is one of those cries that appeals to very primitive instincts. Many current deserts were once fertile or under water.

    There is plenty of arable land for growing crops and raising livestock in the current configuration. While extending the margins a bit or reversing the results of overgrazing is probably worth doing, it is a distraction from the causes of poverty in parts of Africa and Asia. Political instability and corruption, do-gooding NGOs who want them to stay ‘close to Nature’ and lack of basic infrastructure have a lot more to do with it.

    Thanks, Tim. The would-be Messiahs like Savory have never contributed anything to the massive changes that have lifted hundreds of millions out of subsistence poverty in the last 30 years. They are marginal operators selling snake-oil.

  18. “It is not clear how his proposal will stop climate change. Presumably, he assumes changing the surface will change the albedo, which will change the energy balance.”

    The soil of graslands bind a lot of carbon and thus remove CO2 from the atmosphere. If I understand the video in the previous post right, that is the main reason why Savory thinks that turning desert into graslands will help with climate change.

  19. I loved John Daly’s book “Still waiting for Greenhouse” where he politely and gently reasoned why the Hadley Cells caused desertification at certain latitudes. In my opinion, John was a gentleman and a wise man of our tribe. Savory on the other hand worried me as my experience suggests the best of the con-men generally lead with a confession of guilt. 40,000 elephants is by any measure a heavy cross for one man to bear!

  20. 1. If people keep doing the wrong things, don’t understand, and cause desertification by killing natural herds and not making up for it making the Earth suffer, then yes, the world is overpopulated.

    2. The regions, where we see desertification, is at the edges of the natural deserts. The amount of natural deserts is more or less in balance, because the global climate hasn’t changed much the last couple thousands years (compared to earlier changes). So yes, I’ll say, Savory is more or less correct, when he claims, there is no other cause than human for the desertification, we’re experiencing now. “Desertification” means going from not being a desert into becoming a desert. Forget the deserts, that are already there from nature. That’s not what Savory is talking about, as I understand him.

    3. A savanna has savanna climate. A desert has desert climate. Maybe Savory by “changing climate” means changes in the local climate, when grasslands become deserts? Have you thought about that? We’re mostly used today to think about climate change as global climate change. Think locally, when trying to understand Savory.

    About deserts and the explanation giving by Tim Ball here, it is not the full picture! Sahara was formed some 3 million years ago. See work by Peter B. deMenocal:

    http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/~peter/site/Home.html

    The Hadley Cell is part of the explanation, but not the full.

    You need to take a big step back to understand deserts. Like a 100 million year step back. Back then there were no deserts (the oldest desert is the Namib desert formed 80 mio years ago or so). And the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was a lot higher than today. It’s not water, that is the primary problem, it is the amount of carbon. Life is based on carbon.

    Hint: Try calculate the mass of all the carbon bound in life on Earth. Then calculate the mass of carbon bound in CO2 in the atmosphere and compare.

    Tim Ball, you understand many things, and I find your texts and talks very interesting, but you’re not quite right on this one.

  21. “During the last Ice Age the Polar climate zones expanded pushing the mid latitude temperate climates toward the Equator. ”

    Correct.

    That expansion and contraction of the Polar climate zones happens to a lesser degree all the time even during Interglacials as a response to changes in the mix of particles and wavelengths from the sun and that mix varies with the level of solar activity.

    The effects are heavily modulated by the thermal inertia of the oceans and all significant climate change is a consequence of that interplay between sun and oceans.

    Any effect from GHGs being vanishingly small.

    What everone seems to have missed is that the latitudinal shifting is a negative system response which always adjusts the speed of the energy flow through the system so that top of atmosphere radiative balance is maintained over time.

    Deserts are natural, inevitable and constantly moving to and fro between equator and poles.

  22. One of the things I enjoy about this website is the ability of people with different views being able to post.
    And the way people discuss said posts in a (mostly) rational manner.
    I had the good fortune in my high school days to have a physics teacher who had a sound grasp of the scientific method, and its’ application.
    “If it is colourful , it’s chemistry. ”
    “If it moves , it is biology. ”
    “And if it doesn’t work , it’s physics.”
    We all had a good laugh, but it was true in that our understanding was limited at best, and science was a tool , when properly used, to increase that understanding.
    The other thing he taught us was “Never assume I am telling you the truth. Anything I say might be wrong. Always check and recheck , then check it again. ”
    Following that principle in all things can still lead to mistakes, but the solution is the same.
    Check the information. Correct it if it is wrong. Check it again.
    Something else I have long since learned.
    Never be afraid to admit when you do make mistakes. Once you admit there was an error, you are already half way to fixing it. This is something I have tried to pass on, and it makes life so much easier on everyone. Everyone makes mistakes, it is what you do about them that is important.

  23. re Savory: “He has shown good results over more than a decade, so there’s plenty of merit. It’s certainly far better than what we currently have, which is people blaming everything on global warming.”

    I appreciate Tim Balls knowledgeable article but I think it is unnecessarily dismissive of Savory.

    The transformations he has achieved (as shown in his presentation) are little short of miraculous. What he is proposing is to stop ill-informed conservation practices and to introduce animal husbandry that recover land that is degrading unnecessarily.

    His talk did include global warmism, but not because he was a fan or a proponent, I think it is just part of general culture and many have been fooled by the bullshine of “concensus” propaganda.

    I don’t think he’s going to be growing maize on the rocks in the Sahara but he can produce both fertile growth and meat on massive areas that are currently dead.

    Of course ecologists will hate anyone that produces a positive effect. They’d rather go on shooting elephants, depossessing local tribes in the name of ecology and blaming the results on CO2.

    They actually WANT the destruction of climate until we are all down on our knees begging them to show us the light and promising to do whatever they say.

  24. Geoff C says:
    March 25, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Savory’s practices (not so much theories) work well in marginal grassland.

    Quote
    Someone should tell the judges of all the ‘farmer of the year’ awards that Science disagrees with their choices: it has proved many times that grazing management is no better than continuous or set stocking. Nearly every time a grazier has won or been runner up in annual awards since 2007 they have nominated cell or rotational grazing management as a centerpiece of their farm plan. Yet science has been unable to confirm that they are making a difference to the health of their pastures, their animals and their landscapes…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    As someone who practices grazing management I call Bull Patties on that statement. If you want to see a pasture degradate FAST just put horse on it.

    After a few years you have the “rough’ the part of the pasture full of manure, high grass and weeds, the “lawn” eaten close to the ground and bare spots were the horses stand and stomp or run along the fence line. Even weeds won’t grow in those spots. As the pasture ages the horses, pooping on the edges of the rough cause the rough to expand until you have nothing but bare spots and rank weeds.

    I use strip paddocks (30 ft X 300 ft) and rotate every few days also rotating between three species. My paddocks are clipped, dragged and rested. Instead of the nominal 500 lbs per acre I have over 1300 lb/ac. My farm was a worn out tobacco farm with a soil analysis of 98% inorganic mineral aka clay. I now have topsoil. My pastures are volunteer native grasses so I am not using any “improved” grass to account for my success. I lime and use animal manure for fertilizer. I do occasionally fertilize with commercial fertilizer when I over seed in the winter with Abruzzi Rye. That is about once ever three to five years.

    One other mention. By worming and sequestering my animals for 72 hours in stalls I have reduced my worm burden to just about zip. This means my equines now get NO GRAIN even in the winter. Worm management is THE big reason for rotating paddocks BTW.

    Cows are not as hard on pastures and have less problems with worms so pasture management is not as critical. Goats are very sensitive to worms even more so than horses or sheep. Sheep are more susceptible to internal parasites than most other types of farm livestock… and Haemonchus Contortus can kill off several animals in a week if you have a heavily infested pasture and warm wet weather while coccidiosis will kill your lambs and kids.

    The key to Haemonchus is the life cycle. The life cycle (egg to mature adult) is 17 to 21 days. THAT IS WHY YOU ROTATE!

  25. Another comment on pasture rotation.

    You do not want your grass to be any shorter than 2 to 3 inches in height especially in the summer. You need the leaf surface for photosynthesis to promote a fast recovery and to shade the ground. The pasture should be held at a height of between 3 and 6 inches for most species. If it is too high it becomes stemmy and less nutritious however long grass is best for the goats (less worms) and they prefer it.

  26. I am surprised Allan Savory has not mentioned the work done in India with Leucaena leucocephala the “bean tree” which is a nitrogen fixer.

    E.M. Smith discusses the tree (and goats) HERE

  27. Interesting discussion. This is why I love WUWT because I can read solid articles written in a sober fashion.
    I don’t think that many people on this site were too concerned about the ‘climate change’ aspect of Savory’s talk. I just assuned that it was tagged on to make sure the talk got some coverage and appeased the high priests etc.
    The interesting bit for me was the salvage and recovery of damaged land and I still think that there is some merit in trying some of the ideas.

  28. Thanks Tim for your discussion and clarification.
    I also found Savory demonstrated remarkable improvements.
    I think it is important to recognize where his methods do apply and the possible improvements from them versus where new methods are needed to provide water in dry lands.
    See Resourcesat the Savory Institute
    Doing what works
    Holistic Management Research Portfolio
    e.g. Effect of grazing on soil-water content in semiarid rangelands of southeast Idaho

    Soil-water content (%VWC) was highest in the holistic planned grazing pasture (HPG). ► HPG used high intensity, short-duration grazing (6 days/year). ► Percent litter cover was also highest under the HPG treatment. ► Soil-water content varies in response to animal impact and the duration of grazing.

  29. I suspect that Savory is partially right and changing the farming method at the edges of deserts would increase growth which would become a sink for CO2. In addition, the thing he did not mention was deforestation which has also had an impact. By replanting forest we would increase yet another CO2 sink. The combination would be significant.

  30. Believe nothing one reads or hears without verifying it oneself unless it is Weltanschauung congruent. Narration requires suspension of disbelief, the witch doctor’s tool. TED is visually attractive gee-whiz edutainment.

  31. Savory’s ideas for de-desertifying lands are great but they have nothing to do with climate change. There is nothing wrong with having more edible animals for the food supply, either. Making any land more productive is a good thing and imagine all of the peripheral habitat it would be producing for all kinds of other life.

  32. da wolfe says:
    March 25, 2013 at 2:47 am

    Elrich was totally wrong but there could be a point of overpopulation. I believe I’ve heard that 60% of the photosynthesis on earth goes to humans eventually…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>..
    That statement just got debunked here at WUWT recently. The value is closer to 3% link

    As others have mentioned over-population is caused by POVERTY. Just look at the CIA fertility rate tables. This entry gives a figure for the average number of children that would be born per woman if all women lived to the end of their childbearing years and bore children according to a given fertility rate at each age. The total fertility rate (TFR) is a more direct measure of the level of fertility than the crude birth rate, since it refers to births per woman. This indicator shows the potential for population change in the country…

  33. Gail, your comments about horses certainly struck a chord. I have never seen such devastation as in a 3 acre bush paddock with one horse in it for a couple of years. The horse was fed chaff and lucerne, so was not hungry. Mind, you, a goat may have done similar, but goats are smaller :). Horses are compulsive eaters and chewers, and any owner knows that if you don’t control their food intake, they get fat. They chew fenceposts if nothing else is available.

    Anyway, I take issue with those who excuse Savory’s CO2 nonsense because it’s OK to lie in a good cause. How anyone who reads WUWT can run that line is hard to comprehend.

  34. Is the difference between grazing and browsing effective here, a difference between goats and sheep, cattle and horse? As I recall, one crops to the roots and the other leaves stubble.

  35. Good treatise on the why and how of deserts and fringing grasslands and a fair assessment of Savory’s partially successful re-greening idea. My comment is that we can’t dismiss all of all the competing claims for desertification. I worked in the Sahel in northern Nigeria,in the mid 60s, albeit as a mapper of the geology and not as an agronomist. The practice of cutting the meagre stunted wood of the area for fuel and burning the grasses for cropping before the seasonal rains must be considered a contributor to desertification however defined.

    I was witness to a natural ‘Savory” situation, although I didn’t think of it as anything of the kind at the time. On one traverse across part of my map sheet on one of the hottest days.I came to a dry stream valley about 150 m (500ft) across that was choked with scrubby trees with a continuous rusty-brown-leafed canopy about 2.5 metres (8ft) high. I took a compass shot on an rock outcrop feature on the far bank and plunged into the crackly, dusty “forest”, only to be scared out of my wits by a sudden thundering and crashing and a choking cloud of dust. Fortunately, whatever stinky creatures they were, they seemed to be going away from me so I continued cautiously, catching a glimpse of the telltale rears of warthogs slowed up by the main ‘sounder’ of fleeing hogs ahead, paint-brush-tipped tails, vertical, waving like upside down pendula virtually all dropping a load of crap. I found myself soon almost mired in it. When I got through to the other side, I could see the stragglers disappearing back into the forest a couple of hundred metres (500-600feet) south of me. With no water to clean myself up, I walked to my landrover and soon made my malodorous return to the village where I was staying. I have no doubt now what sustained this mini forest. It is helped in a big way by the fact that in Muslim northern Nigeria they don’t eat pigs.

  36. Entertainingly, running through the posts on the site I read one by Willie E about the very ‘stat’ about human’s photosynthesis share being something like 40 (in the ’86 source study it seems) and as I remembered hearing, 60% which might be the today adjusted number. Seeing as how Elrich was one of the authors (!) my trust in the number takes a heckuva beating although I think it is reasonable to include some of the things that were included which Willie dismisses… if not at a 100% rating.

  37. ***
    tty says:
    March 25, 2013 at 1:07 am

    This is completely wrong and an obsolete terminology. Actually deserts grow during glaciations and shrink during interglacials. During the previous (warmer) interglacial Sahara virtually disappeared while during the last glaciation it almost reached to the Guinea Gulf. That was also when e. g. the Nebraska Sandhills was an actual desert.
    ***

    tty, w/o searching, I was under the impression that the Sahara was only partially tied to the interglacials. True, it was generally expanded during the glacials, but the 20k yr precession cycle caused a variance from that — the highest summer insolation periods even during glacials allowed monsoons to penetrate further into the desert than low summer-insolation periods.

  38. For those who think Savory was way off base for mentioning climate change consider the alternative. If he had stated CO2 driven climate change was bunk he would never have gotten on the stage. I really don’t know what Savory believes, but he almost had to take the position he did to get his story out.

  39. Lew Skannen says:
    March 25, 2013 at 5:08 am

    … The interesting bit for me was the salvage and recovery of damaged land and I still think that there is some merit in trying some of the ideas.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    It is a great idea as long as it is not used as a cover for controlling people. The WTO and UN formed committees to write the “Guides to Good Farming Practices” and other ‘Guides” that are now being put in place as regulations in the EU, Australia, Canada and soon in the USA under the guise of “Food Safety”
    From my long ago copy: (Reading this was the moment when my intense dislike of bureaucrats jelled)

    Guide to good farming practices for animal production food safety
    OIE Animal Production Food Safety Working Group
    World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), 12 rue de Prony, 75017 Paris, France

    This draft guide to good farming practices for animal production food safety was taken from the Report of the Meeting of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Commission (Paris, 17-28 January 2005).

    Foreword

    Following a request by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) International Committee to strengthen activities in the food safety area, and desiring to further develop collaboration with the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), a permanent ‘OIE Working Group on Animal Production Food Safety’ was established in 2002. The Working Group’s role is to coordinate OIE activities related to animal production food safety and to provide advice to the Director General of the OIE and relevant Specialist Commissions in these areas.

    The draft guide to good farming practices presented in this article has been produced by the Working Group. The Working Group is further developing this guide, so this article cannot be considered as a definitive version. The version reported here was included in the report of the third meeting of the OIE Working Group, which was published in the report of the meeting of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Commission (January 2005). Other international standards and recommendations are included in the Appendix…..

    First consider the COST that is passed on to consumers if the farmers are to stay in business. One dairy farmer in the UK reported he now spends 60% of his time on paperwork not farming. He is the only dairy left in his area all the rest quit. (per Warmwell.com years ago) I consider any farmer who continues to produce food under these conditions an idiot and a fool because of the heavy fines and risk of jail all based on the whim of some petty Hitler.

    July 25, 2011 Red Tape Rising: A 2011 Mid-Year Report

    …the Obama Administration is continuing to unleash more costly red tape. In the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year, 15 major regulations were issued, with annual costs exceeding $5.8 billion and one-time implementation costs approaching $6.5 billion. No major rulemaking actions were taken to reduce regulatory burdens during this period. Overall, the Obama Administration imposed 75 new major regulations from January 2009 to mid-FY 2011, with annual costs of $38 billion. …

    ….There is no official accounting of total regulatory costs, and estimates vary. Unlike the budgetary accounting of direct tax revenues, Washington does not track the total burdens imposed by its expansive rulemaking. An oft-quoted estimate of $1.75 trillion[1] annually represents nearly twice the amount of individual income taxes collected last year.

    Here are a few bits from this draft to give you an idea of how much control they want.

    ….

    Record keeping
    [from Section a) buildings and other facilities: surroundings and environmental control) – so as to make access difficult for unauthorised persons or vehicles (barriers, fences, signs)]

    Keep a record of all persons entering the farm: visitors, service staff and farm professionals (veterinarian, milk tester, inseminator, feed deliverer, carcass disposal agent, etc.)

    keep the medical certificates of persons working in contact with animals and any document certifying their qualifications and training

    keep, for each animal or group of animals, all documents relating to the treatment and veterinary actions

    keep all laboratory reports, including bacteriological tests and sensitivity tests (data to be placed at the disposal of the veterinarian responsible for treating the animals)

    keep all documents proving that the bacteriological and physico-chemical quality of the water given to the animals is regularly tested

    keep all records of all feed manufacture procedures and manufacturing records for each batch of feed

    keep detailed records of any application of chemical products to fields, pastures and grain silos, as well as the dates that animals are put out to grass and on which plots of land

    keep all the records relating to the cleaning and disinfection procedures used in the farm (including data sheets for each detergent or disinfectant used) as well as all the records showing that these procedures have effectively been implemented (job sheets, self-inspection checks on the effectiveness of the operations) and animal products

    keep documents relating to the pest control plan (including the data sheets for each raticide and insecticide used) as well as all the records showing that the control plan has effectively been implemented (plan showing the location of baits and insecticide diffusers, self-inspection checks on the effectiveness of the plan)

    keep all the documents relating to self-inspections (by the livestock producer) and controls (by the authorities and other official bodies) relating to the proper management of the farm and the sanitary and hygienic quality of the animal products leaving it

    keep all documents sent by the official inspection services (distributors or the quality control departments of food-processing firms) relating to anomalies detected at the abattoir, dairy, processing plant or during the distribution of products (meat, eggs, milk, fish, etc.) derived from the farm’s animals

    ensure that all these documents are kept long enough to enable any subsequent investigations to be carried out to determine whether contamination of food products detected at the secondary production or distribution stage was due to a dysfunction at the primary production level

    place all these documents and records at the disposal of the competent authority (Veterinary Services) when it conducts farm visits.

    Grassland and pasture
    Carry out a risk assessment when livestock are put out to pasture outside the farm: in particular, ensure that the land where the animals are put out to pasture is not exposed to potential sources of chronic contamination (e.g. main road with heavy traffic, domestic waste incineration plant), is not polluted with chemical residues (e.g. pesticides, dioxins, heavy metals) at an unacceptable level and is not known to harbour animal pathogens (bacteria, e.g. anthrax spores; parasites, e.g. flukes);ensure that the fields surrounding the pasture are not sprayed with substances that have not been shown to be safe, and that the animals cannot have access to potentially contaminating material on the perimeter of the pasture (e.g. unauthorised dumping, stocks of herbicides, posts coated with aluminium paint);….

    Use of commercial feed
    Require that all the animal feed purchased is free of chemical residues and complies with regulatory requirements (obtain, if this is not stated on the label, a certificate guaranteeing that it complies with the regulations)

    check that the feed delivered is correctly labelled (manufacturer’s name, composition, manufacturing date, use-by date, instructions for use and precautionary measures to be followed, batch number, etc.) and that the packaging is intact and without any defect that might have affected the contents

    check the quality of the feed delivered in terms of provision for appearance (visual examination) and keep a written record of the results

    refuse, treat appropriately or destroy any feed presenting traces of contamination by mould – ensure that feed for ruminants is free from any trace of animal by-products prohibited by the regulations and eliminate any risk of accidental cross-contamination

    keep samples of purchased feed for any subsequent analytical testing should a problem of residues be identified at the farm production level

    store feed in a clean area, protected from humidity and pests (insects and rodents)

    if storage conditions are not optimal, prefer more, frequent deliveries of smaller quantities

    seek advice if there is the slightest doubt as to the quality of the feed given to animals

    store the manufactured feed in a clean place, protected Chemical hazards from humidity and pests (insects and rodents)

    in the case of bulk feed, do not mix two batches of feed in the same container (separate hoppers) have the composition of the manufactured feed checked at least once a year (correct dosages of the various ingredients, presence of any contaminants)

    keep an up-to-date register of feed delivered and used (batch numbers and dates of use)

    seek advice if there is the slightest doubt as to the quality of the manufactured feed

    when a problem occurs that could affect the safety of animal products, inform the competent authorities immediately…..

    Manufacture of animal feed on the farm
    Check the quality of the raw materials delivered in terms of their appearance (visual examination, to rule out any risk of macroscopic contamination) and keep a record of the findings

    ensure that all the raw materials of plant origin used as ingredients for animal feed have been grown, stored and treated using validated procedures

    keep an up-to-date register of the raw materials delivered and used (batch numbers, dates used, batch numbers of the feed in which they were used). – store the raw materials in a clean area, protected from humidity and pests (insects and rodents) – eliminate raw materials presenting traces of contamination with mould

    comply with the recommendations regarding storage (in a safe place) and the use of additives and feed supplements (always follow the recommendations on the label regarding dosage and withdrawal periods)

    ensure uniform mixing of the different components

    eliminate any risk of cross-contamination, at all stages (production, storage and distribution) have clearly defined written procedures for these

    manufacture of feed, fixing precisely the formulation and production stages, and, in particular, making provision for mixers to be purged between the production of two types of feed with different ingredients

    regularly check and calibrate weighing machines

    plan corrective actions to be implemented in the event of a formulation error and actions to deal with substandard batches that might constitute a hazard

    keep, and file for as long as necessary, up-to-date manufacturing records specifying the dosage and batch number(s) of each of the raw materials used

    keep samples of manufactured feed for subsequent analytical testing should a problem of residues be identified at the farm production level

    set a use-by date for each batch of manufactured feed, taking into account the use-by dates of each of the ingredients and the packaging and storage conditions

    correctly label the sacks or hoppers containing the manufactured feed (date of manufacture, feed type, batch number, use-by date)
    Source from many years ago: http://www.oie.int/eng/publicat/rt/2502/review25-2BR/25-berlingueri823-836.pdf

  40. “… but he should also have introduced the idea of restocking some areas with natural herds, such as bison in North America.”
    It is not clear to me for what reason “should” he have done that. It does not even make sense to me in context of his talk.

    “The problem is expansion of the food supply usually creates an increase in the human population,”
    This is one of the most stupid arguments I’ve ever heard. It’s about as stupid as an argument that highways make people travel more.
    Do you really believe that starvation is the right solution to human overpopulation?

    “First is the claim the world is overpopulated. It is not!”
    Overpopulation is a generally undesirable condition where an organism’s numbers exceed the current carrying capacity of its habitat (wikipedia). There are clearly regions on the Earth where this definition is met with the “carrying capacity” being the food supply. It sure enough is not in the USA, but don’t forget that USA is not the whole world.

    “The second error is his identification of land ‘suffering’ from desertification.”
    Sure enough, nature does not care whether it’s grassland or moon surface; the definition of ‘suffering’ is purely human construct. The question being ‘is it better if this land is desert or grassland?’, Savory’s answer is grassland and the reason is clearly because it is better suitable to hold human population than desert. Is that really an error? Or is it just a different point of view?

    “The third error he makes, is to assume climate change is new and caused by humans.”
    I did not notice him assuming this anywhere throughout the presentation. He sure is riding the wave of climate change to give his voice more power but his claim is that more grassland is going to bind more atmospheric carbon. You don’t need any assumptions on climate change for that.

    “Savory refers to the rock paintings of herd animals in the central Sahara. They occur there because of climate change when increased rainfall supported grasslands. During the last Ice Age the Polar climate zones expanded pushing the mid latitude temperate climates toward the Equator.”
    In the light of information known to me, this is misinformation. During the last ice age, Sahara desert was even larger than today. The period of ‘green sahara’ falls approximately to the period of Roman Warming, deep into the Holocene.

    “It is not clear how his proposal will stop climate change.”
    As I wrote above, Savory is clearly not really interested in (battle with) climate change and is rather riding the wave. But he makes his points very clear so I don’t understand how could the author have missed them.
    I don’t remember him talking about albedo in the talk. What I remember, however, is that he says that changing desert into grassland binds more atmospheric CO2 (valid argument as long as we consider atmospheric CO2 dangerous for climate; irrelevant if we don’t) and affects local climate (towards one more habitable for humans). And as long as global climate is a sum of local climates over all different locations, the change is there.

    No, I don’t believe Mr. Savory will stop global warming or save the world. His methods are not applicable everywhere. But his results are impressive anyway.

  41. I think trees would be more effective than grass and are less affected by livestock. They store both energy and water, and change the albedo. They moderate their micro environment.

  42. Greg says:
    March 25, 2013 at 4:15 am
    re Savory: “He has shown good results over more than a decade, so there’s plenty of merit. It’s certainly far better than what we currently have, which is people blaming everything on global warming.” …………………………

    I agree with Greg. He sums it very nicely
    But Tim Ball’s response is important also for a better understanding. IMO.

  43. Geoff C says:
    March 25, 2013 at 1:04 am
    Quote
    Someone should tell the judges of all the ‘farmer of the year’ awards that Science disagrees with their choices: it has proved many times that grazing management is no better than continuous or set stocking.
    =============
    Reading the paper, it points out that when scientific studies yield different results than the farmers observed, it is the scientific study that is in error. In this case what was found is that the scientific study did not take into account that animals don’t graze a large area evenly. The tend to overgraze the grass that tastes good, and undergraze the grass that doesn’t.

    So, what farmers are finding is that when you confine the animals to small grazing areas and rotate them, you force the animals to eat the grass they don’t care for, which makes for more even results across a much larger area.

    Anyone that has raised children has experienced the same situation. Children tend to graze the food they like and leave the food they don’t. Parents have observed that if you feed the children vegetables first and dessert last as a reward for finishing their vegetables, you can actually get children to eat vegetables – regardless of all the scientific studies.

  44. My yard is green and lush during all seasons except high summer, when we don’t get enough rainfall to support growth. My neighbor’s handful of goats and alapacas have completely destroyed all the grass in their small grazing area. Which is why they push under my fence where the grass is greener. They’ve desertified their pen.

  45. A.D. Everard says it better that I can. Gail Combs if I understood your post you are doing the same thing Savory advocates. You are using strip paddocks (30 ft X 300 ft) he is using much larger areas but allowing each to lay fallow for a relativity long period between use.

  46. @Gail Combs
    I wrote previously that I though Savory’s methods have been lifted from somewhere else. I suspect him of being a beneficial con-man. Do you know if he lifted his methods from someone else? Someone like medieval farmers or Texans? He gave credit to nobody for inventing this method.

  47. I can’t help but feel that Dr. Ball’s article is more of a gut reaction to what he perceives as a warmist argument, rather than a good analysis of Savory’s work, work which to me at least does not seem to be based upon fear of global warming.

    In the 10 minute or so TED talk, Savory did pay some homage to the climate change gods, but mainly he was focused on stopping what he perceived to be increased desertification due not to climate change, but to human intervention in the natural environment of an area.

    If nearly all researchers believe, or believed, that grazing causes desertification, and removes animals from the land as a result of that belief, then Savory is just telling them that, based on his evidence, they are wrong. And in being wrong, they are doing the very damage they are trying to prevent.

    He seems to make his case well, has proven it works in many areas, and doesn’t seem to be a climate change/global warming fanatic, although I suspect paying the theory some respect in his talks is the only way to get government funding nowadays, should he want it.

  48. Some wheat ranchers wait for the dew to dry before harvesting & some don’t.

    IMO work done by real climate scientists has shown that Subpluvials are associated with warmer conditions. The Neolithic Subpluvial coincided with the Holocene Climatic Optimum:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neolithic_Subpluvial

    The Abbassia Pluvial (a longer period) was similarly associated with the Eemian Interglacial, the early part of which was warmer than our current Holocene, without benefit of a Neanderthal (Mousterian) Industrial Age.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbassia_Pluvial

    However, driven by changes in Earth’s tilt, wet Saharas also occur during Glacials:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mousterian_Pluvial

    However, note that this pluvial ended before the Last Glacial Maximum, the coldest part of the Wisconsin/Wuerm glaciation.

    These cyclic, natural climate changes lie behind the Sahara Pump Theory of species migration & spread or retreat.

    Population & starvation projections made in the ’60s & ’70s, when I was a student of Ehrlich’s (regarded by undergrads as a daffy Marxist prophet of doom) have failed in large part due to demographic transition, the spread of free market economics & the much-maligned Green Revolution (new crop varieties). More CO2 doesn’t hurt, either. The observation had already been made at that time that people have fewer children when they’re richer, conditions of life less unpredictably hazardous & two kids become as liable to survive to adulthood as ten babies born earlier.

    World population is liable to stabilize around 10 billion in this century (UN medium scenario), or even decline to six billion (low scenario), rather than continue on up to 16 billion, as in the UN’s IPCC-like, straight-line extrapolation (high scenario). The UN has three bases covered. With Europe & Japan essentially going out of the reproduction business, who can say?

    Ehrlich was however right for one about a plague coming out of the tropics to be spread around the world by jet aircraft passengers. If you make enough Four Horsemen-like apocalyptic predictions–conquest, war (Nuclear Winter!), famine & death (pestilence not actually included in Revelation)–one might come to pass.

    A colleague of his “taught” that sheep create deserts. Naturally.

  49. higley7 says:
    March 25, 2013 at 5:52 am
    Savory’s ideas for de-desertifying lands are great but they have nothing to do with climate change.
    ============
    I don’t agree. Climate change is put forward as the cause of desertification caused by humans. Savory shows that humans are a cause of desertification, but not as a result of global warming. Rather, our simplistic land management practices are a major cause of desertification because we have removed the natural predators from the environment, which used to keep the herds tightly bunched. So, by using fencing to simulate predators and herding, we can restore the natural environment much better than if we were simply to remove the grazing species.

    Yellowstone National Park is one of the classic examples of human mismanagement. Park managers removed the wolves that were a part of the natural environment and the health of the park quickly deteriorated. What Savory shows is that if you use cell grazing and rotation you can mimic the actions of the predators on the grazing species. This will cause the grasslands, which co-evolved with the grazing species and predators, to recover.

    The message I got from all of this is that “common sense” solutions to natural problems often backfire due to the Law of Unintended Consequences. We think we are so smart, that we know everything, and don’t stop to consider that nature may not be quite as straight forward as we think it is. This sort of arrogance is seen daily in the discussions of global warming and over population. Underlying these discussions is the assumption that nature is simple and humans are much smarter and know better. What nature shows us time and time again is that nature is much more complex than we assume and the results of change, natural or human are very hard to predict.

    The lie in the Precautionary Principle is the assumption that we can reliably predict the effects of precaution. As a precaution against street crime one might stay at home. Only to be killed by a stray bullet from a drive by shooting. Or one might stay at home only to slip and fall in the bath, and die by drowning. (baths being one of the most lethal devices ever invented).

  50. Several commenters seem fixated by the ‘reclaiming the desert’ meme and suggest that Savory is deluded, since real desert is simply too dry.

    Perhaps these commenters should consider the word “reclaiming” – it clearly cannot be used to apply to any land that has been desert for some time – it can only be used to apply to land which is now desert-like but was not within a relatively short timeframe.

    If Savory has demonstrated a method that appears to help to recover such lost productive land, what possible motive have the nay-sayers got in trying to put him down?

    As Willis is so fond of saying, quote exactly what you think Savory has got wrong, and explain why, instead of attacking strawmen.

  51. Kasuha says:
    March 25, 2013 at 6:57 am
    Overpopulation is a generally undesirable condition where an organism’s numbers exceed the current carrying capacity of its habitat (wikipedia). There are clearly regions on the Earth where this definition is met with the “carrying capacity” being the food supply.
    =========
    wikipedia’s over simplistic analysis ignores the reality of human populations. Human’s are not limited by food supply, but rather by energy supply. The greater the amount of energy available to a human population the greater the population density that can be supported. This is because human beings are able to make use of technology to convert energy into food. For example, one modern farmer today can farm an area that would have taken thousands of peasants to farm in the past. This allows this single farmer to grow enough food to feed thousands of high density city dwelers.

  52. The limiting factor for raising livestock in mostly arid regions is surface water for drinking. The presence of non-natural surface water during dry spells always leads to overgrazing and then the killing of the capstone grass species. A drive west of Fort Worth will show these effects. Mesquite has taken over once lush grazing lands and further West along the Caprock, much of the region is devoid of the once 1M tall grasslands. Many ranches are almost stripped bare. A return to light stocking rates and periodic fire will return the grass over time AND greatly help the water table.

    I do think that grass has an effect on rainfall at certain times of the year. I have personally been on healthy range land in May when the sun comes up and felt a huge increase in warmth and moisture from respirating grass. A simple calculation of the amount of water vapor transported by deep grass to air is enough to saturate the lower 100M of air over the grass during the day. This increase in moisture has to have an effect on thunderstorm formation during peak heating. Of course the water has to be transported there during storms, but the grass can create its own climate during times when the soil is partly or totally saturated.

  53. fhhaynie says:
    March 25, 2013 at 7:09 am

    I think trees would be more effective than grass….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    That is the same feeling I came away with from all my readings. Some where (I think on WUWT) I read trees actually ‘make rain’ by releasing aerosols that act as nuclei for rain formation. (Hop I got that correct)

  54. Gail Combs says:
    March 25, 2013 at 4:28 am
    The key to Haemonchus is the life cycle. The life cycle (egg to mature adult) is 17 to 21 days. THAT IS WHY YOU ROTATE!
    ================
    Very informative and shows that nature is much more complex than is accounted for in “common sense” knee-jerk solutions. The animals have co-evolved with the parasites and by driving the herds from one area to the next, the predators were increasing their own food supply by reducing the number of animals lost to parasites. Also, by killing the weak, the predators were likely removing those animals that were infected, further reducing parasite transmission and increasing the number of animals available to the predators.

    In other words, the actions of the predators were increasing the health of the grasslands and the heath of the prey species, making more food available to the predators. Rather than decreasing the prey species in numbers, the predators were increasing the numbers of prey, in effect creating their own food supply by their actions. Which makes sense. Evolution favors those animals whose actions increase their food supply.

  55. John Tillman says:March 25, 2013 at 7:44 am
    [...]
    A colleague of his “taught” that sheep create deserts. Naturally.

    I haven’t raised sheep, but had next-door neighbors who did. My understanding was a problem with sheep is when they graze, they eat the grass down to the dirt, killing a lot of it. Cows and horses seem to bite it off ~1/2 to the ground.

  56. JDN says:
    March 25, 2013 at 7:38 am

    @Gail Combs
    I wrote previously that I though Savory’s methods have been lifted from somewhere else….
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    The ideas of strip grazing and the planting of trees to stop deserts has been around for decades. E.M. Smith mentions an article from back in the ’70s by a guy in India who took a marginal rainfall area, overgrazed by goats and turned it around. He penned the goats and had the kids bring food to the goats instead of herding them, placed the manure from the pen into an anaerobic digester where it fermented to produce methane for cooking and fertilizer for a garden and planted Leucaena leucocephala a nitrogen fixing tree that shaded the ground and allowed grass to grow. The same plot of land using simple but effective management tools built out of the local clay now supported the family. link

    The tree has lacy leaves BTW. Leucaena leucocephala photos

    FAO 2.1 Leucaena leucocephala – the Most Widely Used Forage Tree Legume
    During the 1970s and early 1980s, Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de Wit (leucaena) was known as the ‘miracle tree’ because of its worldwide success as a long-lived and highly nutritious forage tree, and its great variety of other uses. As well as forage, leucaena can provide firewood, timber, human food, green manure, shade and erosion control. It is estimated to cover 2-5 million ha worldwide (Brewbaker and Sorensson 1990)….

    Rainfall requirements and drought tolerance

    Leucaena can be found performing well in a wide range of rainfall environments from 650 to 3,000 mm. However, yields are low in dry environments and are believed to increase linearly from 800 to 1,500 mm, other factors being equal (Brewbaker et al. 1985)…. In Australia the leucaena psyllid is much less damaging in drier areas (600-800 mm p.a.) and this is a major advantage for graziers cultivating leucaena in subhumid Queensland.

    Leucaena is very drought tolerant even during establishment. Young seedlings have survived extended periods of dry weather and soil and plant studies have confirmed that leucaena exhibits better drought characteristics than a number of other tree legumes (Swasdiphanich 1992). Leucaena is a deep-rooted species which can extend its roots 5 m to exploit underground water (Brewbaker et al. 1972)…..

    http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/food/8F163e/8F163E08.htm

    It has some digestibility problems but goats can eat it if introduced slowly so the gut adapts. (You NEVER change foods fast on livestock. Since they can not vomit they colic or bloat and die.) If prepared right it can be used as human food.

    To continue…

    Toxicity

    The foliage and pods of leucaena contain the toxic amino acid mimosine which may reach 12% of the dry matter in growing tips but is less in young leaves (3-5% of dry matter) (Jones 1979). Although quite toxic to non-ruminant animals, mimosine is broken down by microbes in the rumen to DHP (3 hydroxy-4-(1H)-pyridone) a goitrogen, which is normally broken down further by rumen microorganisms to non-toxic compounds. The microbes are naturally present in ruminants in Indonesia and Hawaii and probably other countries of southeast Asia and the Pacific where there has been a long history of ruminant animals grazing naturalised leucaena….

    http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/food/8F163e/8F163E08.htm

  57. check sources and methods Willis. Way better data is out there.

    “The Global AEZ results presented are based on a half-degree latitude/longitude world climate data set (Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia), 5′ soils data derived from the digital version of the FAO Soil Map of the World, the 30 arc-seconds latitude/longitude Global Land Cover Characteristics Database (USGS Eros Data Center), and a 30 arc-second digital elevation data set GTOPO30. While representing the most recent global data compilations, the quality and reliability of these data sets is known to be uneven across regions. Especially the quality of the world soil map is reason for concern. It is based on a 1:5,000,000 scale map and it is generally accepted that its reliability may vary considerably between different areas. At present substantial improvements to the soil information is in progress, as for example the recent SOTER updates for;

    South America and the Caribbean (FAO Land and Water Digital Media Series #5)
    North and Central Eurasia (FAO Land and Water Digital Media Series #7)
    Northeast Africa (FAO Land and Water Digital Media Series #2)
    Eastern Europe (FAO Land and Water Digital Media Series #9)
    Another issue is that the current status of land degradation cannot be inferred from the FAO Soil Map of the World. The only study available with global coverage, the Global Assessment of Soil Degradation (GLASOD) compiled by ISRIC and UNEP, indicates that state and rate of various types of degradation might very well affect land productivity. However, the GLASOD study itself offers insufficient detail and quantification for useful application within Global AEZ.

    Also the agronomic data, such as the data on environmental requirements for some crops, contain generalizations necessary for global applications. In particular assumptions on occurrence and severity of some agro-climate related constraints to crop production would, no doubt, benefit from additional verification and data.

    Socioeconomic needs of rapidly increasing and wealthier populations are the main driving force in the allocation of land resources to various kinds of uses, with food production as the primary land use. For rational planning of sustainable agricultural development socioeconomic considerations are indeed crucial. So far, in Global AEZ the use of socioeconomic information is limited to the definition of modes of production and the quantification of ‘input-output packages’. They are referred to as the land utilization types, taking, to some extent, into account the socioeconomic context of production decisions and conditions.

    For the above reasons, the results obtained from this Global AEZ study should be treated in a conservative manner at appropriate aggregation levels, which are commensurate with the resolution of basic data and the scale of the study.

    While various modes have been pursued for ‘ground-truthing’ and verifying results of the Global AEZ suitability analysis, there is a need for further validation of results and underlying databases.”

  58. ferd berple says:
    March 25, 2013 at 8:14 am
    …… shows that nature is much more complex than is accounted for in “common sense” knee-jerk solutions. The animals have co-evolved with the parasites and by driving the herds from one area to the next, the predators were increasing their own food supply by reducing the number of animals lost to parasites. Also, by killing the weak, the predators were likely removing those animals that were infected, further reducing parasite transmission and increasing the number of animals available to the predators…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    This is one of the reasons I have a major problem with Animal Rights Activists. Here in my county in North Carolina they passed a law requiring a minimum of a three sided shed for horses. A Shed? In North Carolina? For a Horse? You have to be kidding. A THREE sided shed with a bunch of horses with no means of escape from the Alpha mare means broken legs and a kicked out wall – (experience talking)

    I insisted my horse whose mother died of heaves (asthma) in a dusty barn, be left outside all winter in New Hampshire. She never developed heaves liker her sibs did and was still going strong at 27 when I sold her as a school master.

    Insisting farm animals be treated by a vet as you would a lap dog or as happened in one case near me, arresting a guy just because his sheep died in the pasture (HC probably) is idiotic. We have enough ‘fragile’ livestock from the show and commercial people as it is. A study by Purdue University found there is now a problem with commercial chickens due to the restricted genetics.

    To put it bluntly we NEED the third world peasants with their half stared animals and the hobby farmers who are preserving the old breeds for the hardy gene pools they represent.

    My husband has been talking via e-mail to this guy in Siberia. link But his photos taken as he was transporting them show animals that would get you arrested in the USA or UK. You could count the ribs through all that fur in the photos yet the animals survive outside in Siberia. Photo They are 13 to 14 hands (135 cm) and autumn weigh is 450 kgs and survive on grass alone. Nice strong chunky ponies… I WANT ONE!

  59. Some quick aspergian comments I don’t have time to linearize:

    Man has been stealing land from the grips of desert since the neolithic revolution 13000 years ago.

    When farmers can’t farm, their farms revert to desert.

    Marxist and their buddies have been promoting war in Africa since the 50′s.

    Farmers can’t farm very well in a war zone.

    Not even getting into grain shipments undercutting the local markets that farmers need in order to sell their produce.

    Got to go big code review! YAY

  60. Steven Mosher says:
    March 25, 2013 at 9:00 am

    check sources and methods Willis. Way better data is out there.

    Thanks, Steven. You accompany that statement with a discussion of the known limitations of the GAEZ dataset … but you don’t suggest what dataset is “way better”. Every dataset has limitations, so it’s no surprise to myself or any serious student that the GAEZ dataset has limitations.

    Given that, your claim would be more believable if you actually, you know, linked to the “way better data” that you say is out there. I’ve given the GAEZ numbers for grassland and hot and cold desert, and you claim there’s more accurate data out there … somewhere … but gosh, Steven, where are your much better numbers?

    Because as it stands, your comment is like far too many of your postings—it hints at greatness unseen, but it provides us with nothing of substance. I’m not saying there isn’t better data out there, you’re a smart man, you may well be right.

    But with the paucity of information contained in your post, there’s no way to know.

    w.

  61. I cannot compete with the information shown by all the contributors above but I do know a man who works in all different parts of Africa and who returns to the UK between contracts and he tells me that although the world’s total population may be of not major consequence, the population of parts of Africa is devastating to the natural growth of trees in particular and other vegetation and backward methods of farming effectively caused desertification. A most interesting autobiography by Lewis Hastings, uncle of Max Hastings who was farming in Africa before the first world war as well as in the 1920s and 30s and he claimed that the deserts of East Africa had been caused by bad farming methods.

  62. Steve Keohane says:
    March 25, 2013 at 8:31 am
    ….My understanding was a problem with sheep is when they graze, they eat the grass down to the dirt, killing a lot of it. Cows and horses seem to bite it off ~1/2 to the ground.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    You are almost correct. Horse bite the grass and normally do not graze too close unless forced to but they do have a taste for that tender young grass. Goats and especially sheep graze much closer. (they make good lawn mowers) goats rather eat weeds than grass since they are browsers like deer. Cows are interesting because they wrap the tongue around the grass and tear it. Because of this method they can not eat grass under 3 inches where as a horse with two sets of front teeth or a goat or sheep with an upper set of front teeth and a hard palate can.

  63. I’m with A.D.Everard on this one.
    Considering the audience Savoury was addressing I thought his presentation was high art.
    He should be in sales.
    I feel most of Dr Ball’s points are addressing the sales pitch nonsense, rather than the main point,
    that point, that we might do better on the lands that evolved with migrating grazing herds by mimicking those herds, is simple and testable.
    The idea can be carried out at local levels, there is no need for UN intervention and it either works or it does not.
    Savoury offerred before and after pictures, are any WUWT visitors in a position to provide a status report on those lands today?
    How is the practise of this theory holding up over time?
    How do the test lands compare to the “normal” lands around them?

  64. John Moore says:
    March 25, 2013 at 9:52 am

    I cannot compete with the information shown by all the contributors above but I do know a man who works in all different parts of Africa and who returns to the UK between contracts and he tells me that although the world’s total population may be of not major consequence, the population of parts of Africa is devastating to the natural growth of trees in particular and other vegetation and backward methods of farming effectively caused desertification…..
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    I am not surprised at all surprised. The Dust Bowl years of the 1930′s show how bad farming methods combined with a drought cause major problems. (Great photos at the site)

    ….The impact of the Dust Bowl was felt all over the U.S. During the same April as Black Sunday, 1935, one of FDR’s advisors, Hugh Hammond Bennett, was in Washington D.C. on his way to testify before Congress about the need for soil conservation legislation. A dust storm arrived in Washington all the way from the Great Plains. As a dusty gloom spread over the nation’s capital and blotted out the sun, Bennett explained, “This, gentlemen, is what I have been talking about.” Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act that same year.

    The law and explanation

    During World War I about one million acres of grassland in western Nebraska, better suited to grazing than to crops, was plowed under and planted. In the 1920s farmers were so desperate to increase income that they over plowed, over planted, and over grazed the land on the Great Plains. Then in the 1930s, drought, heat, wind and low agriculture prices combined to cause disaster….

    Contour plowing, crop rotation, tree rows and grass filter strips along with the newer no-till planting methods and planting of cover crops like white clover to protect the soil and add nutrients over the winter are well know methods but they cost money, time, effort and education. Tenant farmers, farmers of rented land or starving peasants are not going to follow those methods. It has been three generations since we figured out how to protect the soil and the USA and UN has thrown trillions in aid into Africa. Yet we are not even seeing those methods used consistently here in the USA.

    I hate driving along in the winter and seeing bare plowed ground left for months without cover. A good rain storm and you lose a couple of inches of top soil. It is not the fault of the farmer but of the system that concentrates the $$$ in the hands of the middle man.

    New Farm Bill and U.S. Trade Policy:

    Implications for Family Farms and Rural Communities

    For more than five years now, prices for nearly all agricultural commodities – including corn, soybeans, wheat, hogs, and cattle – have persisted at levels well below break-even for most farmers. Congress has responded to the crisis by providing annual “emergency” supplemental government payments to farmers. Year-after-year low prices have persisted and year-after-year American farmers have relied on additional “emergency” payments to keep their farms afloat financially….
    Presented at “Grain Place” Farm Tour and Seminar, Aurora, Nebraska, July 27, 2002
    John Ikerd is Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO – USA.

    http://web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/FarmBill.html

    Conservation only happens when you as an individual or as a country can afford to pay for it and that is the whole problem in a nutshell.

  65. Dr. Ball,

    Thank you for all of information, you presented it very well; however, let me disagree with you about what the central thesis of Mr. Savory’s TED presentation actually was. I don’t think that most of your criticisms really addressed the central thesis, but focused on what in my opinion were side issues or red herrings. I believe that Mr. Savory’s central thesis, as I will describe below, can stand or fall without any reference to either over-population or climate change. This itself could be a criticism of Savory, why is he bringing these side issues into the discussion in the first place?

    As best I can retell it from the TED talk, Mr. Savory’s central thesis is that for the areas that have traditionally been grasslands and are currently under threat from the process of desertification, the only way to restore them to productive capacity is to use large ungulate livestock herds “mimicking nature”, and that animal husbandry is the “only” way to feed the people is from these grassland areas. These are Savory’s most important ideas – the nub of his argument if you will – and the one’s the results of his work seem to support best. Along with thesis of this goes the idea that recent livestock and wildlife management practices have only contributed to the problem of desertification – thus the tragedy of the 40k dead elephants.

    If you want to refute that thesis then you must either show that the greening that occurred in Savory’s “after” pictures either did not occur, or that it occurred for some reason other than Savory’s novel livestock management methods.

    Mr. Savory may be wrong and his practices ineffective, so far as I can tell from your article, as informative and well written as it was, you never really took on this issue directly. Any regular reader of this blog – people who are paying attention – will recall reports such as Philipp Mueller’s report for the GWPF “The Sahel is Greening”, or Matt Ridley’s own TED talk on how “Fossil Fuels are Greening the Earth” [to name two]; it could be that there is some other underlying process blowing at Savoy’s back that is putting wind in the sails of his theory. I just don’t think you have shown that to be the case. You wrote:

    Savory’s comment about the importance of microclimates is more critical than he realizes. Most vegetation, and certainly the grasses, grow in the 1.25 m below the Stevenson Screen, the official weather station. The climate below that level is markedly different, as Geiger identified in his marvelous 1950 book, The Climate Near the Ground. Any attempt at planning or changing conditions in this portion of the Biosphere requires far more information than is currently available.

    What I took away from Mr. Savory’s presentation, and you did not, is that his novel method of livestock management – for reasons he may not be able to fully explain – specifically address this issue of microclimate at the ground level. If Savory’s method turns out to have credibility, and it may not, the only plausible mechanism for its success, as far as I can see, is that “large livestock herds mimicking nature” changes the grassland microclimate at ground level in a favorable way. What else could it possibly be?

    Everything Savory said about ‘climate change’ and ‘over population’ I just let go right out the other ear, it isn’t strictly related to his central thesis, at least above the local and regional scale, and seems to be more his opinion than his science. I do think there is very good reason to believe that rehabilitating a grassland area will affect the local and regional climate and directly impact the ability of the local population to feed themselves – both favorably.

    What effect would any of this have on global climate? who knows. Continental interiors are still continental interiors, it’s still hot at the equator and cold at the poles, you are absolutely right about this. I just think in your zeal to disprove Savory you’ve missed his main point and fixated on areas where Savory himself overstretched his own thesis and expertise namely global climate and population. This isn’t helping the issue because we won’t learn if there is anything of merit in Savory’s methods this way. I just wish he had elaborated a little more about his methods rather than spend time with ‘climate change’.

    As an aside, what would be the effect of having vast ungulate herds “mimicking nature” wandering around in the vicinity of a technologically advanced and developed society? hard to know. Not sure if Savory has thought much about the consequences of that.

    I also have to strongly disagree with you when criticize Savory for being a neo-malthusian when you commit what I call the ‘Deep Green Error’ yourself when you say:

    …Presumably, Savory is suggesting domesticated animals to also expand the food supply. The problem is expansion of the food supply usually creates an increase in the human population, which Savory says is at the heart of the world’s problems.

    The polarity between expanding food supply and expanding population [the thesis of Daniel Quinn's book "Ishmael"] is of course completely broken by modernity, we all should know this [even Savory]. When people become fully modern, and we see this everywhere we look, birth rates plummet to replacement [or less than replacement] sometimes within a single generation as we have seen recently in places like Brazil. Yes, in places like Africa where fertility rates are still very high due to lack of development, populations will continue to increase until they as individuals feel secure enough in their economy to make the rational decision to have fewer children themselves.

    The questions I would like to see answered are: will Savory’s methods repair the world’s damaged grasslands and will this feed the people? If the answer to these two questions is ‘no’, then Savory’s theories and methods should be relegated to the ‘elephant grave yard’ of all unfit ideas. I just don’t think this has been show to be the case.

    Thanks for you article.

    W^3

  66. Gail Combs says: March 25, 2013 at 9:39 am

    ……in North Carolina they passed a law requiring a minimum of a three sided shed for horses.

    …..I insisted my horse whose mother died of heaves (asthma) in a dusty barn, be left outside all winter in New Hampshire….

    ……arresting a guy just because his sheep died in the pasture (HC probably) is idiotic.

    We have enough ‘fragile’ livestock from the show and commercial people as it is. A study by Purdue University found there is now a problem with commercial chickens due to the restricted genetics.

    To put it bluntly we NEED the third world peasants with their half stared animals and the hobby farmers who are preserving the old breeds for the hardy gene pools they represent.

    Yes, the world is going crazy now … in Australia it is now illegal to leave a horse tied up and not be in constant attendance … (yeah, police called and all that) … a good horse tied up by a bridle rein would peacefully stand there (all day and all night if need be!) and 99.9% of the time there is no problem; If he does shy at something the rein will break and he’s in the same situation as if you’d let him loose. … And what about the old military horse lines? Hundreds of horses tied to a common line all night..

    I talked to police who came to inspect a neighbor’s downer cow one day … she’d just calved two days before, had calving paralysis, the guy was watering her and feeding her and moving her and treating her. I explained that 90% of those get up OK in few days, and I’d seen them get up after 3 weeks too. They were very suspicious but went away satisfied. (Damned the way things go, that particular one didn’t get up, got sicker and had to be put down). But, that is the way of life … and death.

    Very true too about the genetic lines …. oh so valuable and so necessary to keep.

  67. Allan Savory map of deserts presents an area in South America going from the well known dry region of Piauí in northeast Brazil down to Patagonia (a tundralike area) ignoring that in bewtween there is Mato Grosso Pantanal -one of largest swamp areas in the world- and the extremely fertile Pampas in Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina where we find cattle and agriculture interacting closely. Sheep is raised in Patagonia and there is no way to deal with constant winds of 80-140 km/h the whole year.

    Savory’s area in South America includes the western dry coast (north of Chile to southern Peru) where there is not a chance to modify it due to geographic climatic coonditions. Savory made a little misleading map of deserts.

  68. john robertson says: March 25, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I’m with A.D.Everard on this one.
    Considering the audience Savory was addressing I thought his presentation was high art.
    He should be in sales.
    ………
    Savory offered before and after pictures, are any WUWT visitors in a position to provide a status report on those lands today?

    And I’m with you both on that!

    Amazing how many people jumped into the “carbon” debate when that was not the main message, just a selling point. And I think that whatever his ‘belief’ he was very wise to ‘go with the flow’ on the AGW issue … why the hell would he want to fight two battles at once?

    Having said that, I’d love to see a fair bit more detail and some measure of results and seasonal climatic conditions than just seeing before and after photos….. and I’m pretty sure there are probably a fairly narrow range of conditions where this does work.

  69. The problem is expansion of the food supply usually creates an increase in the human population, which Savory says is at the heart of the world’s problems.

    I think Dr.Ball left out “according to Savory” after “The problem…”

  70. Someone asked for verification of Allan Savory work. rpielke kindly provided it on the original thread:

    Here is a paper that presents an analysis of one of the locations discussed in his talk

    Beltrán-Przekurat, A., R.A. Pielke Sr., D.P.C. Peters, K.A. Snyder, and A. Rango, 2008: Modelling the effects of historical vegetation change on near surface atmosphere in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. J. Arid Environments, 72:10, 1897-1910, doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2008.05.012.

    http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/r-2973.pdf

  71. “… but he should also have introduced the idea of restocking some areas with natural herds, such as bison in North America.”

    We don’t want bison reintroduced. The carry brucellosis, a disease that causes abortions in domestic cattle.

  72. If you are a rancher, that is you run cattle 365 days a year on annual grass with no, or virtually no, supplementary feeding,then Allen Savory is the man to hire. His ‘Savory System’ works, but, of course, the basic requirements of grass and water and suitable topography to be fitted into his ‘wagon wheels’ needs to exist from the start. You might need am awful lot of pumps and piping as well as the fencing. I never heard of him regenerating land that was not basically suitable for ranching to start with. Until the recent article on this site I was also unaware that he had become a ‘desert reclamation’ expert. For me Willis is the far greater expert since he recognises the curse of the goat.

    How honest is the man? His claim to have killed,was it, 40,000 elephants, which he now regrets is pure theatre. It is on all fours with a clerk in the Defence Department apologising for starting the war in Iraq. Perhaps what he means is that he supported the action at the time and that it is now politically correct to take the blame. There is no blame. The culling, which with only a short break went on for two decades, was essential for the welfare of the elephants. I have no intention of carrying that argument through since it needs people with real expertise in the area and they tend to keep their own counsel these days because of the dreaded consensus..

    • The WWF made several projects that resulted in the killing (or culling, as they call it) of many thousands of elephants, rhinoceros and hippopotamuses. One was done by a former Rhodesian mercenary by the name of Clem Coetze in 1986, that “culled” 44.000 elephants and got a medal from DeHaes, a WWF director. In 1986 the WWf launched its campaign “Sae Nell, the elephant” and set up a camp in the border with Rwanda and sent there huge amounts of paramilitary equipment: machineguns, bazookas, non recoil cannons, hand grenades, assault rifles for “saving the elephant”. However, the elephants to be saved were in Murchison Park, 1000 miles from the WWF camp. The area where the WWF had taken so much armament was the refuge of the Rwanda Patriotic Front, the rebels that launched the worse and more horrible mass killing of human beings known by mankind.

      Back in 1975, the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, create by WWF U.S. president Russel Train, (later nominated as chief of the EPA!) hired Ian Parker, a licensed white hunter to kill practically all elephants in Rwanda.The argument was that Rwandans could not protect simultaneously the mountain gorillas and the elephants, so the elephants “had to go”. One of Diane Fossey’s assistants told the press that the reason was that the land where the elephants lived was ideal for pyrethrum growing, from where the “non polluting” insecticide piretrin was taken. A few years later much cheaper synthetic piretrin was discovered and the pyrethrum crops stopped to be profitable.

      A similar fate suffered the rhinoceros in Zimbabwe. During its Operation Stronghold in 1986, the WWF paid mercenaries to kill the last herd of black rhinoceros in the world for making room for cattle ranches in the Valley of Zimbabwe under a plan by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that was restructuring Zimbabwe’s economy. The plan was provide meat for the European Economic Community. After thousands of rhinoceros and elephants, along with 5000 buffalos were killed, in 1989 in the cattle fair in Bulawayo the cattle was discovered to be infected with foot and mouth disease and the entire program was cancelled. Zimbabwe was left without elephants and rhinoceros, a heavy burden on its shoulders, and a dictator that still rules there.

      Mr Savory surely knew about all this, as everybody else in Africa.

  73. Just a passing thought…

    Allen Savory’s apparent sweeping inclusion of every arid spot on earth as victims of some man-induced desertification did ring a false note. Yes, even the Sahara had been more hospitable at one point in history, according to the proxies and evidence left to us, but there is no evidence that it’s current condition is in any way an artifact of man. The same can be said of most of the areas he indicated.

    However, I got the impression that he was speaking very, very carefully in order to not alienate “believers” or “deniers” (let it be said now that I am very firmly in the denier camp, if it includes people who do not believe that CO2 or any human activity is driving the climate on Earth…whether or not we’re driving the climate changes witness on every planet and moon with an atmosphere—well, I don’t think so, but…). I got a very strong impression that he thought that the idea was more important than complete accuracy; and look at his audience: these were not scientists, after all. And the people he’s got to convince, of course, are politicians. It would be very easy to lose the audience, and the chance at selling what does appear to be a useful idea for certain parts of the planet, by getting too technical and bogging down in the details.

    His presentation was concise, interesting, and if it gets some of the AGW zombies to actually do something useful, I don’t really care if he claims that we ARE responsible for the 2 degree C warming on Mars…he’ll still have achieved something worth while.

  74. Dr. Ball: Your criticism of Savory’ presentation seems excessive. Climate change has little to do with the central tenets of Savory presentation: Despite conventional wisdom, appropriate use of grazing animals can reverse desertification in some locations. Significant questions still remain:

    1) What has been causing desertification: 1) inappropriate use of grazing animals, 2) natural variation in precipitation/climate, 3) some other factor, or 4) excessive publicity of changes in a few locations.

    2) What fraction of the land damaged by desertification can be restored to more “normal” and productive conditions using his methods.

    I don’t remember Savory making any quantitative claims as to how much desertification has or will contribute to climate change. Where his methods work, they can eliminate whatever contribution desertification does make to climate change. Even if that contribution is trivial, his methods will still have reversed desertification and increased food supply – a valuable contribution.

    The natural variation in deserts you discuss (Glacial/Pluvials to Interglacial/Interpluvial) occurs on timescales much to long (tens of thousands of years) to be relevant to the current problem of desertification.

    However, it is interesting to note that the desertification of the Sahara about 6000 years ago was a naturally-occurring climate change disaster whose cause (orbital change) is well understood. Unfortunately, today’s climate models are unable to reproduce this disaster.

  75. @J Broadbent — You say “my experience suggests the best of the con-men generally lead with a confession of guilt.” Apparently you have never met a Wall Street Banker.

  76. “Savory refers to the rock paintings of herd animals in the central Sahara.”

    …and magic mushroom man, whose head is buzzing out like a big bumble bee:

  77. Allan’s Savory’s thesis was quite simple.

    Eradication of carnivores has allowed herbivores to graze in large open spaces for as long as they want, and whenever herbivores do so, they cause desertification of grasslands. Modern ranching allows herbivores to do this very thing, or it confines them for so long in one place that the grasslands are grossly overgrazed and die out. In order to stop desertification of grasslands, modern ranchers need to be a proxy for carnivores, which is to make sure that herbivores keep tightly bunched up and always moving.

    Almost everything else Savoy said was surplusage. His CO2 commentary was surplusage. His overpopulation commentary was surplusage. To critique Savory’s thesis by critiquing his surplusage, was disingenuous.

  78. I think Savory’s message is very valid and puts the focus on local climates, but it dos not deny natural climate change. It is the global average that is misleading. It is the combination of landscape changes plus solar and ocean cycles that have caused most of the climate change. From a biologist’s perspective all organisms react locally. Always. And when we focus on local climate change we quickly realize global warming is not global at all. Changes to the surface always change the air temperature. In some places the maximum rise and the minimums fall. Those are often areas where the land has dried out most often due to over grazing, loss of vegetation and disruption of the hydrology. Other places the maximum has declined and the minimum rose. That is most often associated with urbanization or irrigation. Those examples clearly show that local landscape change can overwhelm CO2 effects and clearly account for climate change on spatial and temporal scales that CO2 driven models can not.Likewise water vapor, droughts and floods are driven mostly by El Nino cycles and clearly account for climate change on spatial and temporal scales that CO2 driven models can not. The list of local dynamics is much longer and to truly understand climate change we need to shift the focus to more local and regional perspective. In that sense Savory’s message is powerful. The criticisms seems to be that Savory keeps the focus on humans but from the perspective of holistic grazing that is where the focus must be placed. We should not be afraid of blaming local climate change on humans when it is real. The Dust Bowl was a combination of human and natural cycles, and has nothing to do with CO2, and it is that combination that best explain climate change.

  79. Gail Combs says:
    March 25, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Someone asked for verification of Allan Savory work. rpielke kindly provided it on the original thread: Here is a paper that presents an analysis of one of the locations discussed in his talk

    Beltrán-Przekurat, A., R.A. Pielke Sr., D.P.C. Peters, K.A. Snyder, and A. Rango, 2008: Modelling the effects of historical vegetation change on near surface atmosphere in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. J. Arid Environments, 72:10, 1897-1910, doi:10.1016/j.jaridenv.2008.05.012.
    http://pielkeclimatesci.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/r-2973.pdf

    Thanks Gail… I see this is largely climate/vegetation modelling showing the effects of vegetation changes on albedo, soils moisture etc … I was rather looking for some good field trials with control areas and detailed records of seasonal changes

    Summary and conclusions
    We used a coupled atmospheric-vegetation model to examine how observed changes in vegetation from grasslands to shrublands could potentially affect the near-surface energy balance, temperature and humidity with feedbacks to the vegetation. Our simulations showed that the change from an 1858 environment, dominated by grasses, to a 1998 area mostly covered by shrubs, led to an overall decrease of SH and a pronounced increase of LH. Overall, a simulated
    shift in the energy partition from SH to LH resulted in a cooler and moister low atmosphere, which would be expected to alter vegetation species competition over a longer time period. We also found that the response was spatially heterogeneous and associated with physical and physiological characteristics of the soils and vegetation.
    On the west side of the domain, temperatures were cooler with the current mesquite cover, associated with an increase in LH and decrease in SH. Higher albedo of mesquite relative to grasses reduced the available energy, that was dissipated mainly as LH due to the deeper root system in mesquite. On the other hand, on the east side of the domain, temperatures were warmer over the area now covered by creosotebush, due to a clear increase in SH. In this case, not only a decrease in albedo but also an increase in roughness length and displacement height may have contributed to the increase in SH. Albedo changes induced by land-cover modifications played a major role in near-surface atmospheric processes.

    We also performed sensitivity simulations to the initial soil moisture conditions…..

  80. Thanks for your well thought out and well presented post. I hoped someone would write a post such as this because I thought the optimistic fervor for Savory’s methods were overdone. Now, it is possible to examine Savory’s presentation and Ball’s presentation and make scientifically based
    judgments. Good work and thank you.

  81. Studies of temperatures in Arizona and Mexico have shown that lost vegetation from severe overgrazing and other practices had caused the soil surface to dry. This drying process increased temperatures by as much as 7°F compared to adjacent lands that had not been so mistreated. 20. For example Balling, R. C., Jr (1998) Impacts of land degradation on historical temperature records from the Sonoran Desert. Climatic Change, 40, 669–681

  82. “It is not long since radical environmentalists like Jeremy Rifkin were blaming cattle for most of the evils of western society…” the radical environmentalists and militant vegans have never let up on that fallacy.

    As for acheiving radical changes in a desert environment, there are areas along the coast in the Pacific Northwest where sand dunes have become “endangered” by humans’ activities decades ago to pin them in place by planting grasses. Plant the grass, some of it dies due to lack of water, so plant more grass. Eventually the grasses were able to capture enough water to become self sustaining. The dead grass decomposed, converting the sand to soil.
    Seeds from less hardy plants were able to sprout and grow, and their deaths further enhanced the soil. Now some of that former coastal desert has become marshland and forest.

    And wouldn’t you know, now people are whining about the loss of the sand dunes they complained about burying their beach cottages.

    So yes, it’s possible to convert land that was dry, empty desert for thousands of years into forest, just by starting with planting some hardy grasses. There only has to be enough moisture in the air to condense on the plants at night. As more and different plants grow they change the near ground level climate.

    Another effect such change has is the land downwind doesn’t get the moisture the former desert once let pass by on the breeze.

    As for overpopulation, if the land surface of Earth was covered in a four level building, with 50% of the middle two floors devoted to living space, the other 50% for things like hallways, green spaces, HVAC, water, electric, sewer etc, and each human given 200 square feet of space…

    That would hold around (if I remember the math correctly) 270 trillion people. The entire top floor could be for raising food, bottom level for whatever doesn’t need sunlight. Want to have more room? Put the entire human population into Texas and every human alive would have nearly 2,000 square feet to rattle around in. The Earth’s land area would hold around 81 billion 2,000 square foot units on a single level. Haven’t touched the ocean space at all.

    What those numbers do is point out that science fiction depictions of super populated planets, be it Earth, Trantor, Coruscant, etc. have got it all wrong. 100 level world girdling building? Better have your story include 13,500 trillion inhabitants (using only 50% of the levels) if you are going to have them constantly packed like a Japanese commuter train during rush hour. Is Star Wars’ Coruscant supposed to be covered in mega scrapers? Does it have a quadrillion inhabitants to justify so much floor space?

    There was this short lived TV series a few years ago titled “The Event”. Turned out the premise was some aliens who looked like humans were planning to move their entire population of around 2 billion to Earth to escape an impending supernova and they had to kill off most of Earth’s population to ‘make room’. Big time Hollywood math fail, as usual.

    I’d love to read a good SciFi tale set on a world with realistic population numbers for real high density living, whether the entire world is covered by buildings or a few billion are packed into one small spot like a 30 level building covering Texas.

  83. From Mahmood 2010 IMPACTS OF LAND USE/LAND COVER CHANGE ON CLIMATE
    AND FUTURE RESEARCH PRIORITIES

    We also conclude that a regional focus is much more appropriate in order to better understand the human effects on climate, including LULCC. It is the regional responses, not a global average, that produce drought, floods, and other societally important climate impacts.

  84. davidgmills says on March 25, 2013 at 6:23pm:
    ..
    Almost everything else Savoy said was surplusage. His CO2 commentary was surplusage. His overpopulation commentary was surplusage. To critique Savory’s thesis by critiquing his surplusage, was disingenuous.

    I agree that even though most of the points in Dr. Ball’s article seem valid, they do not really discuss Savory’s main points, and slightly misrepresent his assumptions and even his methods.

    To be more precise (this also addresses some comments), what Dr. Ball refers to as “Savory’s method” is not “adding cows”, nor merely making changes in animal husbandry, nor is it “rotational grazing”. Savory does not claim rotational grazing to be something new or something that he invented (in his system, grazing is just one of several major tools). Neither does he claim that animal husbandry would change natural deserts into pastures, he talks about reversing desertification (which Savory thinks is a major root cause underlying many social, economical and ecological problems)

    What he does claim (even though this is less apparent if one only listens to his TED talk), is that:

    1) When formulating policies and making decisions, one needs to use a framework capable of dealing with complex “soft” systems (human organizations) AND complex “natural” systems (soils, plants, animals and the ecosystem processes involved), usually both at the same time. He has created one such decision making framework by adapting some best practices of military planning to biological systems, and calls it Holistic Management.

    2) Mimicking nature at the scale and frequency required to reverse desertification is only possible with properly managed livestock.

    People appear to be focusing much more on the second point, sometimes oversimplifying it, or saying that “duh, rotational grazing is nothing new, nothing to see here, move along”. However it is the first point that is the crucial one in “Savory’s method” – even though he does not discuss it much in his talks.

    http://www.savoryinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Good_Governance_2007_20_1.pdf

    This paper discusses some possible uses of the Holistic Management framework in state-level governance (it’s not just a framework for “managing cattle” though it can certainly be used for that as well). The whole paper is worth a read (there are also some good insights about problems of governance common to most countries), but pages 27-29 give a concrete example of the differences between conventional framework and Savory’s holistic framework (it may be necessary to read the entire paper to fully understand the details).

    By the way, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLzqJF5GhnQ
    is a nice and presentation by Hans Rosling – creator of the Gapminder tool.
    In it he uses Gapminder to analyze various issues, including perhaps the funniest debunking of the “overpopulation” myth I’ve seen.
    A brilliant man – however, near the end of his speech (starting from 48:30 to be more exact) he says certain things relating to “climate change” which many WUWT regulars might regard as ignorant to say the least. Does this somehow invalidate what he has done with Gapminder? No? Then why does the same not apply to Savory? Surplusage is surplusage is surplusage, IMHO.

  85. Anssi V. says:
    March 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    http://www.savoryinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Good_Governance_2007_20_1.pdf
    This paper discusses some possible uses of the Holistic Management framework in state-level governance (it’s not just a framework for “managing cattle” though it can certainly be used for that as well). The whole paper is worth a read (there are also some good insights about problems of governance common to most countries), but pages 27-29 give a concrete example of the differences between conventional framework and Savory’s holistic framework (it may be necessary to read the entire paper to fully understand the details).

    Anssi, thanks for the link. I tried to read that bafflegab and flat gave up.

    Seriously. There’s more BS in there than there is anything worthwhile. In any case, it follows Willis’s Rule of Holistic Solutions, which states

    Most holistic solutions turn out to be halfasstic solutions.

    I did read through his description of “Holistic Management” framework. He says;

    Briefly, the holistic framework enhances the universal one with three main additions:
    • A holisticgoal or holistic heading that ties what people value most deeply in life to their life-supporting environment.
    • The addition of two tools that make reversal of desertification possible in the world’s seasonal rainfall environments – grazing and animal impact from large herbivores such as livestock.
    • A set of filtering questions that ensure all decisions, policies, projects or actions are leading toward the future people desire.

    Anssi, you claim the framework is “not just a framework for managing cattle” … but since one of its three main additions is to the universal framework is “grazing and animal impact” I fear it won’t be much use in managing anything but cattle.

    When we take that out, what’s left? Well, your always-helpful “holistic goal”. And some “filtering questions” that ensure that you’re not going off course …

    Really? That’s his brilliant plan? Do what we usually do but add a “holistic goal” and some “filtering questions” and we’re all good?

    Color me totally unimpressed, Anssi. The man may indeed have some good ideas for reversing desertification … but beyond that he’s just waving his hands and saying “holistic” and “filtering questions” as if they were magical incantations.

    w.

  86. Willis, thanks for your comments.
    I understand and to some extent even agree with your point about that article containing “more BS in there than there is anything worthwhile” – though, as most topics in the article deal with “soft” systems (human organizations, referring to his definitions on page 5), I would personally prefer to cut the guy some slack and say that a lot of things are “debatable”, not necessarily “BS”. Certainly there are numerous factual errors as well – guess I’m lucky to have a good “ear passthrough” filter to get past them without too much annoyance :)

    Unfortunately, as much as I would wish to, I cannot send 10000 super-intelligent Willis clones around the world to positively influence the present idiotic policies and power structures. There is no doubt that the world would become a much better place (no sarcasm in there, I genuinely admire your work a lot). No, I’m afraid one just has to deal with the fact that most people currently involved with making policies, or making decisions of any significance, are not able to think well. This is partly because most have never been taught or learned to do so, and partly because they don’t really have to: Their salaries and careers do not depend on the quality of their thinking, actually if they happen to be civil servants, they are likely to be better off (career-wise) if they hide their ability to think, and go with the flow. So we get a steady flow of policies largely motivated by (for example) personal careers, personal greed, personal ambition and popular ideologies like eco-fanaticism — any deeper goals and objectives supposedly guiding policymaking are typically made or at least largely influenced by the marketing or PR department of the organization in question, so they’re useless for practical use. Am I exaggerating too much? :)

    What has this got to do with the holistic framework? It is an attempt to create a workable “quality standard” for policymaking and decision making. It tries to force the decision/policy makers to actually think more deeply what they are doing. This, IMHO, has certain similarities to the work of The Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking (which has at times been mentioned in Judith Curry’s blog), in that the Center attempts to create workable “quality standards” for thinking. I find them complementing each other rather well (actually combining the two is something I’m personally interested in).

    Perhaps the holistic framework will prove to be a failed attempt, but at least Savory is seriously and actively trying to do something constructive about what he perceives to be a root cause underlying many serious problems. Certainly, if one sees nothing wrong with the current way of how humans think and make decisions / policies (for some reason “EPA” and “IPCC” come to mind..), then there is no need to look any further into Savory’s work. If on the other hand one sees room for improvement, then the constructive approach would probably be to offer constructive criticism, with the intention to make a better framework, instead of trying to shoot it down.

    A couple of more clarifications and replies to Willis’ comments about holistic framework:
    - Holisticgoal (more recently called holistic context) is a short descriptive statement about what one (=the managed whole in question) really wants, and what one values most in life. It has a certain defined structure. As the name implies, it is intended to provide a well defined context for shorter term goals and objectives. It needs to be comprehensive, but short and concise enough to “fit inside the head” so that one may actually use it, for example with the filter questions. There is a sample Holistic context on the last page of the article I linked in my previous post, it’s a draft holistic context for an entire country but still fits on a single a4.
    - The seven filter questions are basically a checklist – the idea is to make sure certain crucial aspects common to all decisions have been considered, and that the decision is in line with the holistic context.
    - The “two additional tools” is not the whole story – what Savory said exactly was “Briefly, the holistic framework enhances the universal one with three main additions” – there is more, but Savory chose to mention only “tools that make reversal of desertification possible in the world’s seasonal rainfall environments” – which are the additions that are most relevant to “Good Governance in Africa”
    - According to Savory, the holistic framework is simply adapted from a military planning procedure from Sandhurst Military College. I’ve been so far living under the impression that such schools do not teach magical incantations, but perhaps I’m just ignorant..:)

    Hope this clarifies, all the best,
    Anssi

  87. Anssi, thanks for all of your comments, which were full of interesting points.

    And thanks for your links to the Savory Institute documents, one of which says:

    The Key to Managing Holistically

    The key to managing holistically lies in using a holistic context™ …

    They’ve trademarked the phrase “holistic context”? Really? So I can no longer write “holistic context”, I now have to write “holistic context™”?

    That alone should tell you they’re blowing smoke, Anssi.

    My problem is this. “Holistic” means nothing or everything depending on the context. Mostly it means nothing.

    For example, I can stand up out of my chair. I can stand up smoothly or clumsily, I can stand up quickly or slowly.

    But can I stand up out of my chair “holistically”?

    Please tell me how. I don’t know how to do that.

    The dictionary is no help.

    holistic |hōˈlistik| adjective chiefly Philosophy

    characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.

    That’s great, but if I can’t stand up holistically, how can I manage holistically?

    I suppose it’s theoretically possible to manage unholistically. You just ignore the fact that things are connected to each other. Do you know one person who manages that way? I don’t. Good managers know that the first rule is “Everything is connected to everything else. Which in turn connects to everything else. Except when it doesn’t”.

    I fear “holistic” is just the latest shibboleth for a politically correct world, just like “sustainable”. I mean, the only thing better than a sustainable solution is a holistic sustainable solution, right? My favorite line from the Savory Institute documents so far is:

    A holistic context™ is required for management to be holistic.

    I mean, that’s too good to touch, any comment would defile the beautiful logic of that.

    Anssi, I think Savory’s ideas at the core are solid. He’s saying the same thing as the farmers and ranchers on this thread will tell you, or as the Polyface Farm people will tell you, or as any decent biologist will tell you.

    Ecosystems become both more productive and more stable with increasing biodiversity.

    My problem is that he’s taken the claims about six bridges too far. It’s not magic. It won’t make much difference to CO2. It won’t make the barchan dunes of the Sahara suddenly flower. It’s nothing new to the best farmers throughout history, they’ve always kept animals in the mix.

    And sadly, overselling his ideas devalues the underlying excellent message, which is that wise land management for maximum production involves a carefully selected and utilized mix of plants and animals.

    Many thanks,

    w.

  88. I have come to the conclusion that we all have a little blame global warming and its consequences and guilt even more politicians who do not slow down.

  89. Thanks Willis, as always you provide very interesting observations and ask good questions. I’ll try to answer at least some of them to the best of my ability, but I increasingly feel that I’m nearing the limits of my knowledge and starting to venture too much into speculation and guesswork – therefore I feel that it would be better if Savory could answer questions himself. I’m just trying to clarify what I think can easily clarified – and that is indeed starting to reach its limits.

    As to the trademarking of the phrase “holistic context”, I would probably agree with you wholeheartedly, if I had not watched the steady dilution of the term “permaculture” over the past 15 years or so. It used to be a term defined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late seventies; Mollison attempted to trademark it several times, but failed. I remember you just recently mentioning some nice word for a concept that keeps expanding and expanding in its meaning? Can’t find the post/comment now, I think it was mentioned somewhere in your recent comments.. Anyway, “permaculture” is nowadays precisely such a thing. If you look at its wikipedia page, you can see that just about anything big and small, as long as it can be somehow associated with human living, can be called “permaculture”, and it keeps expanding and expanding. Perhaps most disturbingly, the whole “permaculture movement” appears to have been given an “embrace and extend” treatment by the eco-vegan-hippie crowds. There is now, for example, “parental permaculture” and even “vegan permaculture” explicitly mentioned on the wiki page. “Vegan permanent culture” – what an oxymoron… The saddest thing is, this dilution of the concept has severely undervalued the underlying excellent message, which in the case of “permaculture” also happens to be (I can quote your words directly in here) – “that wise land management for maximum production involves a carefully selected and utilized mix of plants and animals.”

    So my personal take on the “holistic context” trademark issue is that they are not blowing smoke – Savory is simply trying to minimize the risk of dilution of its meaning. Perhaps it is indeed an unwise strategy that will backfire (like it did backfire in your case), but the risk of dilution is very real – especially since Savory has decided to continue using the word “holistic” – one of the words that attract the new-agey/environmental/hippie crowds like honey attracts bees – I personally think that the use of the word “holistic” was/is a big mistake precisely because of these new agey connotations (but then again they were not that much into “holistic” when Savory thought of proper names). Kind of ironic – my understanding of Savory’s original intention is that he has wanted to keep a reference to Smuts (as a kind of recognition of his work I suppose), but it turned out to be the law of unintended consequences biting back…

    Which brings us to the meaning of “holistic”. I’m afraid I’m not able to tell you how to stand up out of your chair “holistically”, just as I’m not able to tell you how to do it “coldly” – or perhaps I could but the meaning would be very much subject to interpretation then. There probably is a fancy linguistic term for it which I’m ignorant of – all I can only say that these adverbs are (to my knowledge) not applicable in that particular context. If you insist, I would suggest contacting the (modern) Dance faculty of some prestigious Theatre Academy – they might be able to show you how do it ;)

    What I can do, is to (at least try to) clarify what he actually means when saying that “A holistic context™ is required for management to be holistic.

    I think what he means, if put a bit more precisely – at least this is the only way I can make any logical sense of it – sounds a lot less new agey:

    “The (actual) use of a (properly formed) Holistic_Context is a necessary, though not sufficient, requirement for management to be regarded as using Savory’s_methodology”

    where
    - I replaced “managing holistically” by “Savory’s_methodology” (as it in this context refers to a decision making framework called “Holistic Management” developed by Savory, described e.g. in here)
    - I replaced holistic context™ by “Holistic_Context” (which refers to a descriptive statement that has a well defined format and role in Savory’s_methodology)
    The replacements are an attempt to be more precise, to avoid certain unnecessary and distracting connotations, and underscores are meant to emphasize that these refer to a specific term, even if expressed as a two-word phrase.

    At least one reason why Savory keeps on nagging about Holistic_Context, is that (according to him) many range scientists keep on claiming that they have tested “Savory’s methods” while not having actually done so; instead they have (according to Savory) simply tested some or other form of rotational grazing, without following Savory’s_Methodology.

    The importance of Holistic_Context in his methodology is somewhat difficult to explain without examples; I actually tried to write an example comparing the results of actual filter questions to an example decision case with three different contexts, but it almost tripled the size of this post so I left it out – you do not seem that interested in the specifics of Savory anyway. Maybe I’ll convert it to a spreadsheet for some later use when I have more time.

    But yes, to sum up, the use of the term “holistic” is altogether unfortunate – you are quite right in observing that it has gone down the same drain as “sustainable” (though not by Savory’s actions). I did get a good laugh about “[t]he only thing better than a sustainable solution is a holistic sustainable solution” – so true :)

    Last but not least –
    Willis wrote:
    “He’s saying the same thing as the farmers and ranchers on this thread will tell you, or as the Polyface Farm people will tell you, or as any decent biologist will tell you.

    Ecosystems become both more productive and more stable with increasing biodiversity.”

    That is all quite true – no doubt about it. What I might question is the relevance of it: Knowledge of something does not necessarily imply acting out that knowledge.

    Numerous martial arts experts possess theoretical and practical know-how about how to kill a person instantly. It would be insane to claim that mere possession of such a know-how would automatically make someone actually kill other people – almost everyone understands that without giving it a second thought. There are many conditions, convictions, instincts, rules, regulations and sanctions, that are preventing (most) actual deaths.

    Numerous farmers and ranchers (and perhaps many biologists) do possess theoretical and practical know-how about how to create and maintain stable and productive ecosystems. Would it be logical to claim that mere possession of such a know-how would automatically make them put it into good use? Farmers all around the world, especially small scale farmers, are increasingly in trouble with a growing bulk of policies, rules, regulations and accompanying sanctions to enforce them. Gail Combs posted some good examples of these in here. Joel Salatin of the Polyface Farm has written a book about it. And even if farmers would somehow manage to avoid the bureaucratic pitfalls, they may still have considerable economic incentives to act against their better knowledge and will, just to make the ends meet. Meanwhile, the likes of Monsanto are allowed, sometimes invited, to influence even nutritional recommendations (for the worse) to create markets for their products.

    Therefore I’m convinced, that the biggest and ugliest “environmental problems” are not to be found in the oceans or in the atmosphere, nor even in the soil. They are found in the rules, regulations, policies, laws and treaties – or more precisely, in the processes, practices and structures that are creating, maintaining and enforcing them.

    I believe that 1) Open and transparent science, 2) free flow of information and knowledge (including transparency of policy-making organizations), and 3) critical thinking — are crucial for bringing about any significant change in those processes, practices and structures. I also believe that Holistic Management (Savory’s_methodology) has some very good potential to improve some of those processes and practices. That, IMHO, is its biggest promise, and the main reason why I continue to be very interested in its development.

    All the best,
    Anssi

  90. Anssi V. says:
    March 28, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks Willis, as always you provide very interesting observations and ask good questions. I’ll try to answer at least some of them to the best of my ability, but I increasingly feel that I’m nearing the limits of my knowledge and starting to venture too much into speculation and guesswork – therefore I feel that it would be better if Savory could answer questions himself. I’m just trying to clarify what I think can easily clarified – and that is indeed starting to reach its limits.

    As to the trademarking of the phrase “holistic context”, I would probably agree with you wholeheartedly, if I had not watched the steady dilution of the term “permaculture” over the past 15 years or so. It used to be a term defined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the late seventies; Mollison attempted to trademark it several times, but failed. I remember you just recently mentioning some nice word for a concept that keeps expanding and expanding in its meaning?

    Yeah, but permaculture actually means something. “Holistic context”, on the other hand, is just a feel-good word. You say:

    So my personal take on the “holistic context” trademark issue is that they are not blowing smoke – Savory is simply trying to minimize the risk of dilution of its meaning.

    WHAT original meaning is there to dilute? That’s my question. What is a “holistic context” when it’s at home? What are the borders of a holistic context, what defines when it becomes non-holistic?

    As far as I’m concerned, “holistic context” is just politically-correct new age bafflegab, although I’m happy to be convinced otherwise.

    w.

  91. Re: Willis Eschenbach on March 28, 2013 at 3:03 pm
    “WHAT original meaning is there to dilute? That’s my question. What is a “holistic context” when it’s at home? What are the borders of a holistic context, what defines when it becomes non-holistic?”

    I can try to answer this, but please note that I absolutely suck at writing elevator speeches, so I’m not even trying that. First I’ll list some basic premises (that I think are behind the idea of holistic context), then discuss the context structure, and finally try to answer your questions (if they did not get answered already). Please also note that this is my interpretation, so any errors, misunderstandings and other stupidities are most likely my own making.

    The first basic premise behind holistic context (and holistic management in general) is that we are, on average, notoriously bad at handling complexity. Perhaps the worst thing about it is, that we tend to to think we’re good at it – just as many of us tend to think we’re good and critical thinkers, though observations – both more formal and day-to-day casual (like observing the prevalence of argumentation and logical errors in newspapers and blogs) – tell a different story.

    The holistic context is trying to address the “complexity problem” – that is its purpose.

    (I must make a small digression, and note that it is not really trying to address the “thinking problem” mentioned above, that is outside its scope, except for the high emphasis places on the monitoring of decisions, which I do ot cover. Thinking is just assumed to be “good enough”, which may in practice turn out to be a very problematic assumption, IMHO.)

    I interpret the “holistic” in Savory’s texts, and especially with “holistic context”, to mean “trying to take into account the complexity of the world”, so “holistic context” could be replaced with “context that is trying to take into account the complexity of the world”.

    “Holistic context” = “context that is trying to take into account the complexity of the world”

    The second basic premise is that every decision and every objective always (with minor exceptions that I discuss below) does have some context, whether or not it is said aloud, and even whether or not the participants are consciously aware of it.

    For example, if I say to you, “I’m going to light a fire, is that OK?” I have stated my objective, but you need some context to make sense of it. This is often immediate and automatic – happens below conscious thought. If I’m your friend, and we have just arrived inside a chilly log cabin with a fireplace in it, that’s probably enough for you to deduce the context without consciously thinking about it. If you also happened to know that I was a convicted arsonist, you might want to do some further inquiry about the context – either ask me directly about it, or just say “yeah, great” but keep an eye on my actions.

    We tend to look down upon young childen with amusement and/or irritation (depending on whether or not one is in the receiving end of child’s endless requests and whining), because they are remarkably context-free creatures: They see something, decide to like or dislike it, if they like it, they WANT it, very intensively (and often very loudly). Slowly, slowly, the child learns to include some context in her decisions and goal-setting; for example
    - taking into account environmental concerns (do not leave wet muddy outdoor clothes on the carpet in the middle of the room)
    - taking into account social concerns (wait for your turn, do not take a toy from another child when he is using it)
    - taking into account economical/social/environmental concerns (realize that you might not actually need that annoying $123 bright pink plastic toy you grabbed from the supermarket lowest shelf, that does nothing except take space and make various annoying noises if any living poor creature gets within two feet radius)

    We like to think, that as adults we are so much better than young children in taking into account the complexity of the world, because our decision-making and goal-setting context is so much more advanced – but is it actually? If we look more closely on various decisions, actions, and strategies, we can see that our context[s] still seems to be remarkably primitive. Just as one simple example, has a climate scientist (half?-)knowingly publishing bad research really considered the long term implications to climate science, or has she just considered the short term implications to her career? Because if she has considered them, then she has consciously decided to ignore them, which amounts to fraud or malfeasance. I could easily list hundreds – no, thousands of examples, in fact anyone could write several book volumes just listing examples of the primitiveness of our context (from individual up to any organizational level).

    If objectives and goals have too simple/narrow contexts, we might win a battle (satisfy our immediate desire, or solve our immediate problem), but in the end, lose the war (not achieve what we really, actually want).

    The third basic premise is: We can actually create, and make use of, more advanced contexts. This is what company “missions” and “visions” and “values” are perhaps trying to achieve, but they are usually done in a pretentious and half-arsed way, so in practice they may be useless for anything except boosting the company imago, if even that.

    Holistic context is intended to be the “axiomatic” top-level context. It is positioned above any strategic plans, visions, or whatever the managed whole in question whole may use . It describes
    - what the whole is about
    - what is the purpose of the whole (if applicable, for example organizations and agencies usually have a stated purpose)
    - what does the whole want to be
    - what does it ultimately want to accomplish (what kind of life does one want to live, in what kind of world).

    (the exact structure of the holistic context is discussed below)

    When strategies and high level objectives are created or updated, they are done to be in line with this holistic context. When any significant day-to-day decisions are made, they are also checked against the holistic context (using well defined testing guidelines).

    We can create better contexts to make better decisions, and to create less short-sighted objectives. This will likely lead to less problems down the road.

    The fourth premise is that it is good to have peoples’ contexts somehow “synchronized” – to be as much in line with each other as possible. This creates commitment, makes people “pull the rope in the same direction”, avoids unnecessary conflicts and misunderstandings.

    This is also what the “missions” and “visions” and “values” are (apparently) trying to accomplish.

    We are used to make (often subconscious) assumptions about each others’ contexts. Moreover, there may also be very different contexts involved in a situation, but these may still lead actions in the same direction – up to a point: Often different contexts lead into problems at some point down the line – due to incorrect assumptions and/or contexts conflicting too much with each other.

    As a simple example, suppose a boy and girl have been on a date. The boy escorts the girl home, at the front door the girl asks “Would you like a cup of tea?”. The girl’s context in this case is that she would like to show the boy her home, and to still have a nice little chat with the boy, whom she has started to like. The boy, who has mostly been thinking about sex during the entire date, now makes an assumption about her context: “Gee! she asked me for a ‘cup of tea’ – she wants sex too!”. The boy happily agrees, the girl makes her own (likely naive) assumption about the context of boy’s agreement, they go in and likely will have a major clash at some point. So even in simple cases involving no more than two people, let alone more complex organizations, differing contexts can and will cause problems at some point down the line.

    To ensure that actual contexts (“actual contexts” = contexts which are actually and really used in real life decisions) are in line with each other among participants of the managed whole, it is important to involve all decision makers of the whole, when creating the holistic context. A “decision maker” is anyone involved in day-to-day decisions of the whole, or one who has veto power over them. So for example, in the case of a civil service agency, it will include all the agency employees, and will likely include also certain people outside the agency payroll, who have veto power over some decision. In the case of a family farm, the decision makers will include all family members having any say to day-to-day decisions (infants still might not count despite their indirect large influence), everyone being employed in the farm, and everyone living in the premises.

    When there are many actors involved, it is always good to synchronize the decision making / planning contexts, as much as possible.

    So let me sum up the four premises, before going on:
    1. “Holistic context” = “context that is trying to take into account the complexity of the world”
    2. If objectives and goals have too simple/narrow contexts, we might win a battle (satisfy our immediate desire, or solve our immediate problem), but in the end, lose the war (not achieve what we really, actually want).
    3. We can create better contexts to make better decisions, and to create less short-sighted objectives. This will likely lead to less problems down the road.
    4. When there are many actors involved, it is always good to synchronize the decision making / planning contexts, as much as possible.

    Structure of the holistic context:

    Before actually defining the holistic context itself, it is important to define what we are actually managing – what is the “managed whole” in question. This definition usually includes the following things:
    - High level description of what the managed whole is – e.g. Agency X, Department Y of Agency X, a family farm, a ranch, a married couple, a nation state of A”
    - Statement of purpose if applicable – e.g. civil service agencies typically have a purpose stated in law (sometimes this is also included in the holistic context itself)
    - Who are the decision makers (ones having a say in day-to-day decisions, or who have veto power over such decisions)
    - The resource base – usually includes at least:
    – major physical resources from which one will generate revenue
    – list of people who are not decision makers but will be influenced by the decisions
    - Money – sources of money available

    The actual holistic context always contains three parts, which build on one another:
    1. Quality of Life
    2. Forms of Production
    3. Future Resource Base

    I’ll very briefly discuss each of these in turn. It’s important to keep in mind that all parts are written to include expressions of the desires and aspirations of all the decision makers.

    1. Quality of Life: This in this part one one tries to express how one wants life to be, based on what values most. Examples might be: economic well-being and stability, abundant energy, good relationships, enough leisure time, time for learning, opportunities for challenge and growth, work that is meaningful, physical health and longevity, emotional and physical safety, freedom from bigotry, equal opportunities, quality education — whatever is applicable for the whole and valued most by the decision makers.

    It might be good to comment on an obvious objection; that most of these things seem “self-evident” and therefore not worth listing – that everyone “knows” these anyway and will take these into account when making decisions.

    Firstly, this objection assumes that we all value the same things, which we don’t, not even “deep down”. And these are anyway needed in later stages (2 and 3) so they must be written down.

    Secondly the claim “all these self-evident things will be taken into account anyway” simply is not true; we humans are hardwired to filter out any information that is “irrelevant” to the task at hand – even when it isn’t. So we must have some means to keep the all important things aboard when making decisions. The holistic context can be used as a tool to achieve this. It’s not the only tool for it but it’s a good tool.

    2. Forms of Production: This part describes what one needs to produce in order to meet the quality of life needs (defined in the first part) and what one needs to produce to meet the stated purpose (if applicable). For example, “physical health” would require (at a minimum) good nutritious food, clean and abundant water, clean air, so these would somehow need to be listed in here as “products”.

    The important thing is to focus on what needs to be produced, not how it is going to be produced, and to not allow any prejudices about future tools and actions creep in (these are things that should be tested).

    3. Future Resource Base: This is a long term vision about the Resource base (initially described when defining the managed whole) – how it should be many years (say, 50, 100, 500, 1000 years, depending on the whole) from now, to sustain what one has to produce to create the quality of life one wants. It always covers the people and the land (if managing land), sometimes it also descibes the community (where the business/organization is located in) and services available in that community. The description of land always includes a sufficiently detailed description of how the fundamental ecosystem processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) should function (for example, some coarse descriptions might be clean rivers, little or no droughts, abundant wildlife, soil fully covered — in the case of farms the descriptions might be more detailed).

    It is, of course, impossible to provide a detailed and accurate description far into the future. The holistic context is intended to be a living document that is evolved, refined and developed over time, reflecting the best understanding and values of the decision makers.

    One example of a well formed holistic context is on the last page of this article (it still uses the old term “holistic goal”), and has actually been used in training agency officials. Unfortunately I did not find good linkable examples (could type some by hand but I doubt it’s worth the effort).

    About testing decisions and objectives
    The holistic context gets into real use when the decisions or objectives are tested. The details are out of scope of this post but I’ll list the guidelines briefly:

    1. Cause and Effect (does the proposed action address the root cause of the issue?)
    2. Weak Link social/biological/financial (does it create/weaken/strengthen/address the weak link(s)?)
    3. Marginal Reaction (which action provides the greatest return for time and money spent)
    4. Gross Profit Analysis (which enterprises contribute the most to covering the overheads of the business)
    5. Energy/Money, source and use (is the energy/money sourced appropriately and used in ways in line with the holistic context)
    6. Sustainability (will this lead toward or away from the future resource base described in the holistic context)
    7. Society and Culture (how do we feel about it now – will it lead to the quality of life described in the holistic context – will it adversely affect the lives of others). (also know as the “gut feeling” test)


    I hope I have described at least superficially what a “holistic context” is when it’s at home, and why to use it – at least my understanding of it.

    You still had the question
    Willis wrote:
    “What are the borders of a holistic context, what defines when it becomes non-holistic?”

    My personal take is that a holistic context becomes “non-holistic” when it is no longer helpful in addressing the complexity of the world, in managing of the whole that the particular context is written for.

    For example, let’s consider the US Environmental Protection Agency. Could anything even remotely resembling a holistic context be written for EPA as it is now? After reading its mission, bugdet plan, and strategic plan it becomes apparent that EPA only has
    - a stated purpose (protect human health and the environment, and make USA a global leader in it)
    and
    - various forms of production (develop and enforce environmental policies and regulations, give grants, sponsor partnerships, create information, assess quality of information, disseminate information)
    and
    - well, that’s it. The rest of it is just vague corporate evasive language (some cleverly phrased, but still).

    I’d say that the absence of anything remotely mentioning “quality of life” (maybe EPA thinks quality of life is irrelevant, or too “airy-fairy”, or perhaps the officials have enough stuff in their hands managing real serious threats like that evil CO2…), and the absence of any kind of future resource base, would certainly make this kind of context “non-holistic” – at least, with a context like that you can not test your decisions using the testing guidelines.

    Perhaps one could still try to use the questions, to “evaluate” their decisions, like the “CO2 as pollution” decision. Let’s try…if we ignore for a while that EPA’s own mission talks about ensuring that “national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information”, then perhaps it would pass the Root Cause question. It would not pass the Weak Link question under the “Taking Action on Climate Change” strategic goal – but the Weak Link test might pass under “Sponsoring partnerships” – especially if the partners happen to be severely cash-strapped. Actually it’s kind of nice to have such a context, it’s very — flexible.. (ok I’m clearly having too much fun in here so I’ll stop..)

    Anyway I hope my long explanation made it at least more clear and not less..
    Anssi

  92. Just for the record:
    the russian word is степь (step). The word Steppe is German – derived from the russian, of course.

  93. There is merit in the light grazing hypotheses. There are plants which only survive where grazing animals spread the seeds while rarely over-trampling… or humans now perform the same functions. (I’m thinking of a certain somewhat rare variety of white clover which used to be spread by bison.)

    People — even people who detest Malthus’s and Ehrlich’s and the Club of Rome’s erroneous predictions of doom — believe the world is over-populated and over-crowded for a number of reasons.

    Diseases which used to die out between population centers now spread rapidly if not stopped by quarantine/isolation treatment.
    Similarly, diseases carried by water used to die between the point where they soaked into the ground and where they sprung up naturally or were extracted via wells, but with the increased densities the parasites and bacteria carry from population point to point.
    When you want to go anywhere, people are in your way, and when you want to get away from other people’s smells, sounds, sight… and have some privacy, it is now impossible.
    Governments demanding “intelligent transportation”, i.e. privacy in travel elimination schemes, on the rationalization that if they take control away from individual drivers, alleging their computer-controlled systems can “safely” cram more vehicles in the same number of square miles of highway and considering that adequate rationalization; and they’re trying to herd people into communitarian “mass transit” to also reduce individual control, and increase density of bodies.

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