Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Desertification: Who's Right?

In Allan Savory's How to fight desertification and reverse climate change talk, he presents the idea that holistic management and organized grazing could bring to the recovery of deserted grasslands. At first he addressed the damage that grazing from animals brought to grasslands and that, in addition to climate change, this was one of the main causes of desertification.  Savory was so convinced that he and his colleagues killed over 40 thousand elephants in Africa. To their surprise, this did not help the desertification problem, and in fact it made it worse.  Savory made it his mission to find what the cause to desertification was and how we can fight it.  Some of his research leads him to believe that grazing animals are actually the solution to combating desertification.  Savory believes that reintroducing cattle to deserted grasslands with intense management will help carbon-sequestering grassland to regrow.

At first I found his idea intriguing.  He presented pictures of successful trials that seemed almost too good to be true. When being shown these pictures and introduced to this idea that increasing cattle grazing will not only benefit the food market, but also help fight desertification and climate change, it is hard not to be in awe.  Was it too good to be true?

After reading James McWilliam's blog post on Savory's talk, I was very conflicted.  I thought Savory's ideas were convincing, yet McWilliam's addresses many flaws in Savory's theory.  He states that, not only was rainfall 24 inches more than average in the period of trials, but authors of a review of Savory's trials conclude that there has been no grazing system able to overcome desertification of grasslands. McWilliam makes good points against Savory's ideas that have me second-guessing the hopeful idea of combating desertification.

Since I was conflicted between who was right in this debate, I referenced another review on desertification.  In Jerrold L Dodd's Desertification and degradation in Sub-Saharan Africa the overall consensus in that there is just not enough hard evidence to claim that planned grazing is a sufficient and effective solution to desertification.  I am inclined to think that, even though Savory's idea is intriguing, it is more of just an idealistic theory.  I seems that Savory's talk focused on the trials that proved his theory and did not include those that counteracted it.  As much as I would like to believe that Savory's methods would work, at this point in time I don't think that they are the sole solution to combating desertification.




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