A bridge in the climate debate – How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change

This is one of the most important posts ever on WUWT, it will be a top “sticky” post for a few days, and new posts will appear below this one during that time.

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


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

Every once in awhile, an idea comes along that makes you ask, “gee why hasn’t anybody seen this before?”. This one of those times. This video below is something I almost didn’t watch, because my concerns were triggered by a few key words in the beginning. But, recommended by a Facebook friend, I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did, because I want every one of you, no matter what side of the climate debate you live in, to watch this and experience that light bulb moment as I did. The key here is to understand that desertification is one of the real climate changes we are witnessing as opposed to some the predicted ones we often fight over.

It is one of those seminal moments where I think a bridge has been created in the climate debate, and I hope you’ll seize the moment and embrace it. This video comes with my strongest possible recommendation, because it speaks to a real problem, with real solutions in plain language, while at the same time offering true hope.

This is a TED talk by Dr. Allan Savory in Los Angeles this past week, attended by our friend Dr. Matt Ridley, whose presentation we’ll look at another time. Sometimes, TED talks are little more that pie in the sky; this one is not. And, it not only offers a solution, it shows the solution in action and presents proof that it works. It makes more sense than anything I’ve seen in a long, long, time. Our friend Dr. Roger Pielke Sr., champion of studying land use change as it affects local and regional climate will understand this, so will our cowboy poet Willis Eschenbach, who grew up on a cattle ranch. I daresay some of our staunchest critics will get it too.

To encapsulate the idea presented, I’ll borrow from a widely used TV commercial and say:

Beef, it’s what’s for climate

You can call me crazy for saying that after you watch this presentation. A BIG hattip to Mark Steward Young for bringing this to my attention.

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

Published on Mar 4, 2013

There’s a longer version with more detail below, about an hour long. Also worth watching if you want to understand the process in more detail:

Feasta Lecture 2009

Extracts available at vimeo.com/8291896

Allan Savory argued that while livestock may be part of the problem, they can also be an important part of the solution. He has demonstrated time and again in Africa, Australia and North and South America that, properly managed, they are essential to land restoration. With the right techniques, plant growth is lusher, the water table is higher, wildlife thrives, soil carbon increases and, surprisingly, perhaps four times as many cattle can be kept.


Recorded 7 November 2009, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland


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Richer people? More cattle? No wonder it’s been forgotten for four years. No self-respecting greenie will go for such an amount of positive news.
Remember, for them it’s miserabilism first. The environment can wait. Perhaps we should re-cast that talk in a way that properly explains how people will suffer in a way or another.

Willis Eschenbach

Nice find, Anthony. No news to me, I wrote about it here.
Best to all,

Sounds very hopeful. Will the IPCC endorse this? No.
Why? ???


Thank you very much Anthony for bringing this here!
2 things:
A. Here in Israel you can see it happening for many years along with reforestation even in areas never thought to be able to hold forests (northern Negev desert).
B. This is going to be a mote in Gary Yourofsky’s eye. We will have to increase meat consumption worldwide to financially support the farmers and to manage the livestock. It is great for carnivores like myself, but Yourofsky is going to have a fit. 🙂


A sizable tool in the colonialist’s arsenal was the insistence that native land practices (especially grazing) were ‘incorrect’ and merely extended ‘natural’ conditions, which were, as indicated above, thought to cause desertification. It was believed that only the European system of intensive land use along with the removal of nomadic grazing systems could ‘redeem’ the land and return it to its former glory. Oh, how wrong they were. It’s nice to see them come out and admit it, and do something positive for once. Hopefully a bunch of myopic, idiotic environmentalist fanatics don’t charge in and find away to muck this all up.


Thanks for that, Anthony. Great presentation.
Seems like a win-win proposition, even if AGW should prove to be overstated.


I grew up in Holland post WWII and as you can imagine farmers were, all over Europe in those days, an important group (sorry if I cannot express myself well), But some of my farming family always, always showed me small ways to grow things (composting and propagating, milking, birthing etc.) and to how ROTATE crops and grazing animals . Every week, or less, live stock was moved from one pasture to another to give the grazed pastures a rest and recuperation to give the “shit and piss” a chance to do their thing. As Holland was small it had to be done on a few hectares (if not acres) at a time but by darn it worked.
This Gentleman’s concept is not new but is on a scale I can hardly imagine ( like the size of all of Europe ). But I did like this video a lot because I do hope that people get a lesson out of it. The 40,000 dead elephants! It might wake up a few people.

Mike Bromley the Canucklehead in Cowburg

As much as I think TED talks are good I really do wish they’d get Al Gore out of the opening frames.

Lew Skannen

Fascinating. I am always ready to consider that if an obvious solution has not worked after a sufficient amount of time then it may not actually be a solution.
Often the standard response is just to assume we have not done enough yet. (I also think this principle applies to a lot of problems from foreign aid to drug abuse but that is another story.)
Stopping the natives of Africa burning during the dry season might not be so easy, it seems to be a rather ingrained habit, but having spent a bit of time in that part of the world I would back this idea over any other project currently being funded there.


That talk is brilliant!


Anthony, this post was really important. Thanks.
Willis, although “Animal, Vegetable, or E. O. Wilson” (11 SEP 2010) was an excellent post, you wrote nothing directly about fighting desertification. However, a commenter on your post, E.M.Smith, September 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm, did.

Cows, not wind turbines.
I’ll have some of that!

Stephen Skinner

Excellent talk and positive. Perhaps some of the temperature increases over the last 50 or so years are from increasing areas of bare ground and so a measure of increased desertification?
This may not explain why temps have not continued to increase unless desertification has stalled?

Real people understand this!
Enviromentallist dont! Its hard to profit from and hard to tax … and it gives you hope .. the most forbidden tinking in the green religion.

It’s all part of scientific pasture management. What we call land degradation today has long been known as “The Tragedy of the Commons.”


Yet another outstanding man from that very small tribe known as Rhodesians. Alan Savory has achieved so much in terms of wildlife management, zero tillage and conservation. His moving to New Mexico seems to have really given him the environment in which to shine.
The message, more livestock, is quite revolutionary but based on his previous successes and ability to learn from his mistakes I have no doubt this is a huge step forward for mankind.


So he suggests that we can reduce ” carbon” to preindustrial levels. I assume he means carbon dioxide which is of course a plant food. So there will be less plant food for this new level of growth.
hmmm…. Perhaps we should keep burning fossil fuels to help keep the level of CO2 up.
It’s still a very interesting idea though but the fixation with “carbon” makes me wonder about the original premise that there is such a thing as “climate change” (which in this case means anthropogenic climate change)


Not news to Australian Graziers. A similar programme was on Landline (Country TV series in Australia)

I interrupted watching an outstanding speech by a great teacher (Jon Kabot-Zinn) to watch this video.
Wow. Am I ever glad I did.
It’s important, and I found it gripping from stem to stern. I learned a lot, and it all makes sense.

james griffin

A great idea that he appears to have been proved…and I am all for that. However he does not know the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide or that NASA report that the planet is greeening due to more CO2 in the atmosphere.
It is the soot and things such as sulphur dioxide that we need to address…..the extra CO2 is of great benefit.

Practical, scientific, sensible, humane, economical.
The eco-fascists and climate alarmists will oppose this with the last breath in their bodies.


Many have read the book “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. He writes about the demise of various civilizations, large and small. In almost every instance one of the main contributors is destruction of soil resources.
A community that is originally successfull increases its population and expands agriculture from the best lands to the maginal lands. Then during lean times they find that their practices have destroyed those marginal lands. The greater population is forced to overburden the originally better land, and destroys it also.
Today, one of the not so brilliant ideas is to use our most precious resources – land and water – to make fuel for cars. This will lead to disasters.
See, for example…
“Taking Measure of biofuel limits”
“Nobel Prize winning biochemist says ALL biofuels are ‘nonsense.'”

Wonderful. There has been a lot of discussion in Australia recently about ‘un-desertifying’ the land. It is known that the continent used to be largely forested, so it is clearly capable of having other than desert wasteland. This approach is clearly what we need.


Absolutely wonderful.


That’s great, but I see a flaw… How can you graze thousands of cattle in an area with no grass or other such vegetation?

Thanks a lot Anthony. I intend to call attention to this on my blog.


I mentioned Mr. Savorys work here http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/12/13/to-sahel-and-back/#comment-828805 and here http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/09/16/water-evaporated-from-trees-cools-global-climate/#comment-744521 in a wider context.
Regenerative Agriculture (RegenAg) takes the principles even further, RegenAg uses Savorys Holistic Management techniques alongside keyline ploughing (developed by P.A. Yeoman) and the integrated design principles of Permaculture (developed by Bill Mollison) to provide a proven system to regenerate soils and landscapes in a productive, profitable, manor.
I attended the UK RegenAg design course run by Darren Doherty in 2011, highly recommended for farmers, landscape designers, and environmentalists, this is the future of farming IMO. see links for further details.


Thank you Anthony, this is a very important message to all people concerned about climate.
It may be a bit bold to assume that rising CO2 is caused by desertification rather than by fossil fuels, but that would explain why it didn’t stop even though temperatures aren’t rising for quite a few years already.


A scientist willing to admit a mistake, and Savory’s mistake was enormous, is a real scientist. I’ll bet you don’t see him too often behind a desk or tied to a GIGO computer program. I am a little amazed that this is the first time I’m learning of his work, but in the little shown, it sure makes sense and sure gives one a sense of hope for all the species on earth. With the constant din of gloom and doom from our politicians, media and nay-sayers, this is a breath of fresh air.

I am sharing this with as many as I can. Here in HK they seem to be doing their best to eliminate water buffaloes but they are an essential part of the ecology.
Government officials and a protection group have in recent years moved four buffaloes, from Lantau and elsewhere to the WWF-run Mai Po nature reserve in northwest Hong Kong. Such moves are usually prompted by complaints from the public.
The latest addition, Mai Bo, arrived in September. The WWF says the animals are proving a great help at the 380-hectare (940-acre) reserve where they graze wetlands, which in turn helps to attract rare birds.
“We found that buffalo are actually very good at managing the habitats, at keeping short vegetation… which provides very good habitat for the birds that we get here,” said John Allcock, WWF-Hong Kong’s head of habitat management and monitoring at Mai Po.
He hopes to take in more buffaloes but distances the WWF from the debate that moving the animals has sparked in a city where many are concerned with the loss of heritage that has come as a consequence of its development.
“I think of them as something that adds character to Lantau,” said David Blecken, a 32-year-old British journalist who lives on Hong Kong’s main island.
“I think Hong Kong sometimes lacks a connection with nature, so it’s quite nice to see animals of any kind in Hong Kong.”


Now that I think about it most ruminates (cows, buffaloes, etc) have developed a symbiotic relationship with grasses. Many species of grasses have seed coats that survive going through a cow’s stomachs and are deposited with a capsule of highly nutritious plant food.Then they are tilled into the ground by the hooves of the cows. Cows are natures little farm combines running around tilling the soil and planting seeds for next years crops.
Ask any farmer what happens if you use raw manure on farmland. Your fields get full of whatever plants the cows had been eating, so they compose or heat the manure first to kill the seeds in it.


Basically? Blah blah blah. Each day you, Tony Watts, you further PULL otherwise rational souls into some odd combination of “nice old men” propaganda, minus any edge, or minus anything but your stealing of cool from simple libertarian citizens of the United States of America.
Every day you bury you best clothes in piles of dirty and maybe dirty underwear.
Republicans, anti-science Republicans, are already on the side of reason.
Now what?
I don’t know.


“2 Ancient African Civilisation in the Sahara”

“Historian Basil Davidson looks at ancient rock paintings in Zimbabwe of civilised black-skinned African peoples. “The evidence of these paintings suggests a continuous community of peoples, lving right across the Saharah from the Atlantic to the valley of the Nile.”
As the Sahara was overtaken by desert around 2000 BCE, these peoples moved southwards and eastwards”.

Dodgy Geezer

1 – There are political problems. Dr Allan Savory is not an American. So anything he says is most likely to be ignored until it is ‘invented in America’. Even worse, he is a white man who worked for the British Colonial Service in Rhodesia (as was). In current politics, that makes him a racist imperialist.
2 – Won’t somebody think of the poor Sand Lizards which will have their habitat ruined if the desert is removed?
The ideas are very good, but I reckon the above is what they’ll fail on…


@ tommoriarty
I wholeheartedly agree with your biofuel sentiments. However I would suggest being circumspect with regards to Jared Diamond. He is a bit of a Malthusian in my opinion and his work made him the darling of the “chicken-little, let’s see who we can scare into giving us money” crowd. I find his theories interesting, but not exactly hopeful as you see in Savory’s work.


FANTASTIC! Bravo! Wow!
I learned something today and am well impressed. Thanks. From cheap simple solutions we had increased vegetation, water retention, more food, carbon sequestration. I am impressed. That light bulb moment went on when he pointed out that the current year’s grassland must be removed for the following years grass to grow with the key being moving livestock.
When I read

Imagine, shooting 40,000 elephants to prevent the land in Africa from going to desert…..

I thought it was just a hypothetical example, but it happened and for nought.
On a sad and cynical note, and I do hope I’m wrong here, but it seems this lesson will not be of much interest to those seeking funds to ‘tackle’ climate change as there ain’t money to be made. Please feel free to snip this last paragraph, it’s just the way I feel.


Wonderful talk and I can ignore his comments about carbon as he says himself, “I’m no expert on carbon”. It’s not his discipline so has simply accepted the ‘consensus’.
I doubt it will get the backing it needs, as it goes totally against the thinking behind Agenda 21 which is to return as much land back to ‘Nature’ as possible and move the people into confined urban areas.You won’t get the environmentalists on board, either, as other commenters have said, as their focus is on forcing vegetarianism on us all. The Law of Unintended Consequences is a foreign land to them.

I liked the part where he learned the “consensus” about cows in college and later found out that the “consensus” was completely wrong… But there won’t be a single professor anywhere teaching about ecology or ecosystems who won’t constantly be demonizing cows – it’s just a reflex action by now…

Jens Raunsø Jensen

Hi Anthony,
sorry but I do not see the light here, on the contrary. Having worked as a scientist, development aid administrator and consultant to major international developing agencies on land and water management for about 30 years in Africa and Asia, I am sad to see the lack of skepticism – especially on this site – when people promote ideas like this without proper documentation.
Several statements may be challenged i the presentation, but let’s just recall what a team of scientists have concluded on the subject in a Synthesis Paper on the issue (Briske et al., 2008, Rangeland Ecol Manage 61: 3-17) with reference also to Savory: “Continued advocacy for rotational grazing as a superior strategy of grazing on rangelands is founded on perception and anecdotal interpretations, rather than an objective assessment of the vast experimental evidence.”
“The rangeland profession has become mired in confusion,
misinterpretation, and uncertainty with respect to the evaluation
of grazing systems and the development of grazing
recommendations and policy decisions. We contend that this
has occurred because recommendations have traditionally been
based on perception, personal experience, and anecdotal
interpretations of management practices, rather than evidence-
based assessments of ecosystem responses, which is
a common phenomenon in ecosystem management (Pullin et
al. 2003; Sutherland et al. 2004). This has seriously impeded
the development of more robust, consistent, and unified grazing
management recommendations and policy decisions to govern
this predominant land use on rangelands.”
Finally, recall that the socalled Sahel crisis of the 1970-80 with widespread “desertification” has later been found to be driven by decadal changes in rainfall pattern. The vegetation has largely recovered in recent years with more “normal” rainfall.
regards .. jens


Does anyone here know how he is funded or how to make donations?


The following paragraph is very important as it should alert people to the ‘solutions’ being proposed to ‘tackle’ global warming climate change. It may all be for nothing.

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

Something similar was carried out in Africa earlier called the Cattle Killing Movement of the Xhosa.

Peter Whale

Absolutely, brilliantly simple, give him the warmist funding.

Stephen Richards

Send it to the BBC.
I dislike immensely the continuous use of carbon as opposed to CO² (a minor thing but annoying) and the absolute assumption that CO² of itself fuels (climate change) global warming. He like many other environmentalists has adopted the “climate change” description of global warming to avoid conflict with reality.
However, one cannot fault his work and his passion and his drive and he should receive all the money currently being wasted by Hansen et al so it can be put to real environmental restoration instead of the destruction of human civilization. We are all environmentalists. None of us wants to destroy the planet on which we live. Give him all the backing he needs to get on with his work as fast as nature will allow.
Thanks to Anthony and to Mark Steward Young

Stephen Richards

NikFromNYC says:
March 9, 2013 at 1:49 am
You need to lay off the maruyana, son. You are in danger of losing it altogether.

Geoff Sherrington

Australia shows a high % of desertification on the maps. The Savory approach has been tried in parts, without, I suspect, the scientists knowing that there needed to be a more coordinated plan. Some plus and minus policies compared to the Savory plan.
e.g. 1960s, CSIRO Division of Tropical pastures introduced legumes and grasses to assist beef cattle area. This is the good part. I helped in a very small way and time in my early graduate years.
e.g. 1979, start of eradication of 20,000 water buffalo from Kakadu national park because they were not native. Some were machine gunned from helicopters. Current National Park thinking is here, including fire management. http://www.environment.gov.au/parks/kakadu/management/conservation.html
e.g. recent decades, culling of brumby horses and camels from the arid interior
e.g. spreading the misconception that agriculture is self-conserving and does not need inputs like animals
e.g demonising cloven hoofed animals for the reason that they break up dry soil and make it more dust bowl.
If it is shown that the Savory plan is sound, it will take quite some time to provide at least minimal pasture for carrying capacity to be increased. That is not insurmountable, it’s just slow.
There is a strong push here, with the national broadcaster the ABC strongly involved, for a silly idea called ‘organic farming’. I’ve formally complained about objectivity in this pseudo-science by the ABC and been treated badly.
There are variants, but I can’t close without quoting “Biodynamic agriculture uses various herbal and mineral additives for compost additives and field sprays; these are sometimes prepared by mystical (and controversial) methods, such as burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow, which are said to harvest “cosmic forces in the soil”, See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodynamic_agriculture and more.

Lawrie Ayres

Alan Savory has had a strong following among sustainable farmers in Australia for many years. I use the word sustainable as it meant before the Greenies thought it meant stopping everything and in particular the use of and consumption of animals. As a now retired farmer I was always amazed at how nature did what I was trying to do. I guess it is best summed up as working with the environment to achieve a mutual benefit rather than working against it to achieve a good outcome for me alone. It lead me to abandon insecticides and most herbicides and take a smaller return albeit with a smaller outlay. As a lucerne (alfalfa for you yanks) grower we often had leaf roller (heliothis) attacks and some neighbours sprayed to control them. I put up with them and chaffed my hay so slight imperfections went un-noticed. What I found was that I had many more insectivorous birds visiting every time I mowed and many just lived on the farm for the duration. I also had many good insects like ladybugs that ate aphids. No real science I agree but observations and outcomes should count for something. Unfortunately our agricultural scientists by and large concentrate their advice about the bottom line and higher outputs rather than a holistic approach that allowed me to avoid using large quantities of artificial fertilizers but still maintain healthy soils and a reasonable return. The Greens here, and most politicians who are not game to buck the trend, continue to lock up our National Parks just to see them burn every few years when the re-introduction of grazing animals would reduce the fuel load and flame height as they once did before the parks were created from crown land grazing leases. I don’t say farmers know everything but they certainly know more than city bred land managers. Alan is a respected observer of nature who has articulated what he sees.

Matthew Carver

This sounds a lot like the work of Joel Salatin in Virginia. He is a farmer that focuses on land restoration. He has written several books that are simple and well written.