Sunday, March 10, 2013

Why didn't I know this?

Today I learned something completely new about climate change, and not only new but potentially planet saving. How have I missed it? For my friends who have been telling me that greenhouse gas emissions are not the whole story, this confirms what they have been saying. And for those concerned that reducing emissions won't be enough, here is a ray of hope. Is it too good to be true? Maybe, but it deserves looking a little bit deeper.

It started with an announcement in my email from of a talk given last month at TED2013 and posted this week. The speaker is Allan Savory and his talk is "How to green the desert and reverse climate change". It received a standing ovation and is well worth watching, but if you don't have the required 22:30 right now, here is a brief excerpt.

18:50 What we are doing globally [through improper grassland management] is causing climate change as much as, I believe, fossil fuels and maybe more than fossil fuels, but worse than that it is causing hunger, poverty, violence, social breakdown, and war. And as I am talking to you, millions of men, women, and children are suffering and dying. And if this continues, we are unlikely to be able to stop the climate changing, even after we have eliminated the use of fossil fuels. I believe I have shown you how we can work with nature at very low cost to reverse all this. We are already doing so on about 15 million hectares on five continents.

And people who understand far more about carbon than I do calculate that for illustrative purposes, if we do what I am showing you here, we can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years, and if we just do that on about half the world's grasslands that I've shown you, we can take us back to pre-industrial levels while feeding people. I can think of almost nothing that offers more hope for our planet, for your children, and their children, and all of humanity.

To find out more, I went to the Savory Institute web site. "The Savory Institute promotes large-scale restoration of the world's grasslands through holistic management. We use properly managed livestock to heal the land and empower others to do the same. We also remove barriers on the path to large-scale success through activities such as conducting research, creating market incentives and raising public awareness."

This and a companion site Africa Centre for Holistic Management are fascinating, with a lot of useful information, but I was a little disappointed not to find more science. There is one recent article (pdf) that is helpful. It explains the theory behind holistic management and provides some documented results. It also explains the relatively lack of scientific papers this way.

There are substantial differences in the skills and training required for management and for research. Managers of land almost never achieve publication in peer reviewed journals concerning range management in particular, because such journals are controlled by, and the International Range Management Society is dominated by, research people lacking both skills and training in management. Such researchers have over many years refused to accept management results as anything but anecdotal, because they cannot replicate management of any financial, social and land management situation on small plots for statistical analysis. Management needs to be holistic and can never be reductionist.

This explanation sounds reasonable, but I still have reservations. Despite my misgivings, I find myself drawn to this work and intend to find out more. It is the most hopeful thing I have heard or read in a long time. See also this undated paper A Global Strategy for Addressing Global Climate Change.