Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Is increasing livestock the solution to desertification?

In February 2013 Allan Savory conducted a TED talk on fighting desertification and reversing climate change, During this talk he discussed how livestock were responsible for the desertification of global grasslands. Livestock cause this by overgrazing and contribute to climate change by the releasing of methane into the atmosphere. In order to reverse this desertification he implies that we need to eat less meat, reduce the amount of cattle, and the land will restore itself. Savory went on to tell a story about how he and his team of experts killed 40 thousand elephants because they thought that they were causing desertification. After killing the elephants he realized that the problem got worse instead of better. After that horrible experience he thought that maybe livestock could help reverse desertification. Savory mentioned that humid areas with no rainfall during half of the year help to contribute to the desertification because the grasses are dying and nothing is coming in to replenish the soil and allow for new growth.

Similarly, Stringer et al. states how events of drought can be a major driver for the desertification of land.The increased variability in rainfall and intensity of the droughts mixed with climate change across the region will increase land desertification problems. This will place a higher difficulty on the farming communities to adapt to the variability of the climate (Stinger et al. 2009). However, Savory found that by holistically managing cattle and increasing their numbers they can help in reversing desertification and thus reversing climate change.

In my opinion the idea of holistic management seems like a good idea, but does it really work? The 400% increase in livestock will result in a huge increase in methane, but will the grasses absorb enough carbon to balance it out?

 After reading the article by James McWilliams it made me rethink whether Allan Savory's holistic management idea was a good one. McWilliams says "if you're interested in saving the planet, sharpen your steak knives." I feel that this is a great way to summarize Savorys argument. The 400% increase in livestock will make farmers have to sell more meat in order to make a living and thus pushing a higher consumption of red meat onto the rest of the planet.




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