How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change | Allan Savory

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast The most massive tsunami perfect storm is bearing down upon us. This perfect storm is mounting a grim reality, increasingly grim reality, and we are facing that reality with the full belief that we can solve our problems with technology, and that’s very understandable. Now, this perfect storm that we are facing is the result of our rising population, rising towards 10 billion people, land that is turning to desert, and, of course, climate change. Now there’s no question about it at all: we will only solve the problem of replacing fossil fuels with technology. But fossil fuels, carbon — coal and gas — are by no means the only thing that is causing climate change. Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert, and this happens only when we create too much bare ground. There’s no other cause. And I intend to focus on most of the world’s land that is turning to desert. But I have for you a very simple message that offers more hope than you can imagine. We have environments where humidity is guaranteed throughout the year. On those, it is almost impossible to create vast areas of bare ground. No matter what you do, nature covers it up so quickly. And we have environments where we have months of humidity followed by months of dryness, and that is where desertification is occurring. Fortunately, with space technology now, we can look at it from space, and when we do, you can see the proportions fairly well. Generally, what you see in green is not desertifying, and what you see in brown is, and these are by far the greatest areas of the Earth. About two thirds, I would guess, of the world is desertifying. I took this picture in the Tihamah Desert while 25 millimeters — that’s an inch of rain — was falling. Think of it in terms of drums of water, each containing 200 liters. Over 1,000 drums of water fell on every hectare of that land that day. The next day, the land looked like this. Where had that water gone? Some of it ran off as flooding, but most of the water that soaked into the soil simply evaporated out again, exactly as it does in your garden if you leave the soil uncovered. Now, because the fate of water and carbon are tied to soil organic matter, when we damage soils, you give off carbon. Carbon goes back to the atmosphere. Now you’re told over and over, repeatedly, that desertification is only occurring in arid and semi-arid areas of the world, and that tall grasslands like this one in high rainfall are of no consequence. But if you do not look at grasslands but look down into them, you find that most of the soil in that grassland that you’ve just seen is bare and covered with a crust of algae, leading to increased runoff and evaporation. That is the cancer of desertification that we do not recognize till its terminal form. Now we know that desertification is caused by livestock, mostly cattle, sheep and goats, overgrazing the plants, leaving the soil bare and giving off methane. Almost everybody knows this, from nobel laureates to golf caddies, or was taught it, as I was. Now, the environments like you see here, dusty environments in Africa where I grew up, and I loved wildlife, and so I grew up hating livestock because of the damage they were doing. And then my university education as an ecologist reinforced my beliefs. Well, I have news for you. We were once just as certain that the world was flat. We were wrong then, and we are wrong again. And I want to invite you now to come along on my journey of reeducation and discovery. When I was a young man, a young biologist in Africa, I was involved in setting aside marvelous areas as future national parks. Now no sooner — this was in the 1950s — and no sooner did we remove the hunting, drum-beating people to protect the animals, than the land began to deteriorate, as you see in this park that we formed. Now, no livestock were involved, but suspecting that we had too many elephants now, I did the research and I proved we had too many, and I recommended that we would have to reduce their numbers and bring them down to a level that the land could sustain. Now, that was a terrible decision for me to have to make, and it was political dynamite, frankly. So our government formed a team of experts to evaluate my research. They did. They agreed with me, and over the following years, we shot 40,000 elephants to try to stop the damage. And it got worse, not better. Loving elephants as I do, that was the saddest and greatest blunder of my life, and I will carry that to my grave. One good thing did come out of it. It made me absolutely determined to devote my life to finding solutions. When I came to the United States, I got a shock, to find national parks like this one desertifying as badly as anything in Africa. And there’d been no livestock on this land for over 70 years. And I found that American scientists had no explanation for this except that it is arid and natural. So I then began looking at all the research plots I could over the whole of the Western United States where cattle had been removed to prove that it would stop desertification, but I found the opposite, as we see on this research station, where this grassland that was green in 1961, by 2002 had changed to that situation. And the authors of the position paper on climate change from which I obtained these pictures attribute this change to “unknown processes.” Clearly, we have never understood what is causing desertification, which has destroyed many civilizations and now threatens us globally. We have never understood it. Take one square meter of soil and make it bare like this is down here, and I promise you, you will find it much colder at dawn and much hotter at midday than that same piece of ground if it’s just covered with litter, plant litter. You have changed the microclimate. Now, by the time you are doing that and increasing greatly the percentage of bare ground on more than half the world’s land, you are changing macroclimate. But we have just simply not understood why was it beginning to happen 10,000 years ago? Why has it accelerated lately? We had no understanding of that. What we had failed to understand was that these seasonal humidity environments of the world, the soil and the vegetation developed with very large numbers of grazing animals, and that these grazing animals developed with ferocious pack-hunting predators. Now, the main defense against pack-hunting predators is to get into herds, and the larger the herd, the safer the individuals. Now, large herds dung and urinate all over their own food, and they have to keep moving, and it was that movement that prevented the overgrazing of plants, while the periodic trampling ensured good cover of the soil, as we see where a herd has passed. This picture is a typical seasonal grassland. It has just come through four months of rain, and it’s now going into eight months of dry season. And watch the change as it goes into this long dry season. Now, all of that grass you see aboveground has to decay biologically before the next growing season, and if it doesn’t, the grassland and the soil begin to die. Now, if it does not decay biologically, it shifts to oxidation, which is a very slow process, and this smothers and kills grasses, leading to a shift to woody vegetation and bare soil, releasing carbon. To prevent that, we have traditionally used fire. But fire also leaves the soil bare, releasing carbon, and worse than that, burning one hectare of grassland gives off more, and more damaging, pollutants than 6,000 cars. And we are burning in Africa, every single year, more than one billion hectares of grasslands, and almost nobody is talking about it. We justify the burning, as scientists, because it does remove the dead material and it allows the plants to grow. Now, looking at this grassland of ours that has gone dry, what could we do to keep that healthy? And bear in mind, I’m talking of most of the world’s land now. Okay? We cannot reduce animal numbers to rest it more without causing desertification and climate change. We cannot burn it without causing desertification and climate change. What are we going to do? There is only one option, I’ll repeat to you, only one option left to climatologists and scientists, and that is to do the unthinkable, and to use livestock, bunched and moving, as a proxy for former herds and predators, and mimic nature. There is no other alternative left to mankind. So let’s do that. So on this bit of grassland, we’ll do it, but just in the foreground. We’ll impact it very heavily with cattle to mimic nature, and we’ve done so, and look at that. All of that grass is now covering the soil as dung, urine and litter or mulch, as every one of the gardeners amongst you would understand, and that soil is ready to absorb and hold the rain, to store carbon, and to break down methane. And we did that, without using fire to damage the soil, and the plants are free to grow. When I first realized that we had no option as scientists but to use much-vilified livestock to address climate change and desertification, I was faced with a real dilemma. How were we to do it? We’d had 10,000 years of extremely knowledgeable pastoralists bunching and moving their animals, but they had created the great manmade deserts of the world. Then we’d had 100 years of modern rain science, and that had accelerated desertification, as we first discovered in Africa and then confirmed in the United States, and as you see in this picture of land managed by the federal government. Clearly more was needed than bunching and moving the animals, and humans, over thousands of years, had never been able to deal with nature’s complexity. But we biologists and ecologists had never tackled anything as complex as this. So rather than reinvent the wheel, I began studying other professions to see if anybody had. And I found there were planning techniques that I could take and adapt to our biological need, and from those I developed what we call holistic management and planned grazing, a planning process, and that does address all of nature’s complexity and our social, environmental, economic complexity. Today, we have young women like this one teaching villages in Africa how to put their animals together into larger herds, plan their grazing to mimic nature, and where we have them hold their animals overnight — we run them in a predator-friendly manner, because we have a lot of lands, and so on — and where they do this and hold them overnight to prepare the crop fields, we are getting very great increases in crop yield as well. Let’s look at some results. This is land close to land that we manage in Zimbabwe. It has just come through four months of very good rains it got that year, and it’s going into the long dry season. But as you can see, all of that rain, almost of all it, has evaporated from the soil surface. Their river is dry despite the rain just having ended, and we have 150,000 people on almost permanent food aid. Now let’s go to our land nearby on the same day, with the same rainfall, and look at that. Our river is flowing and healthy and clean. It’s fine. The production of grass, shrubs, trees, wildlife, everything is now more productive, and we have virtually no fear of dry years. And we did that by increasing the cattle and goats 400 percent, planning the grazing to mimic nature and integrate them with all the elephants, buffalo, giraffe and other animals that we have. But before we began, our land looked like that. This site was bare and eroding for over 30 years regardless of what rain we got. Okay? Watch the marked tree and see the change as we use livestock to mimic nature. This was another site where it had been bare and eroding, and at the base of the marked small tree, we had lost over 30 centimeters of soil. Okay? And again, watch the change just using livestock to mimic nature. And there are fallen trees in there now, because the better land is now attracting elephants, etc. This land in Mexico was in terrible condition, and I’ve had to mark the hill because the change is so profound. (Applause) I began helping a family in the Karoo Desert in the 1970s turn the desert that you see on the right there back to grassland, and thankfully, now their grandchildren are on the land with hope for the future. And look at the amazing change in this one, where that gully has completely healed using nothing but livestock mimicking nature, and once more, we have the third generation of that family on that land with their flag still flying. The vast grasslands of Patagonia are turning to desert as you see here. The man in the middle is an Argentinian researcher, and he has documented the steady decline of that land over the years as they kept reducing sheep numbers. They put 25,000 sheep in one flock, really mimicking nature now with planned grazing, and they have documented a 50-percent increase in the production of the land in the first year. We now have in the violent Horn of Africa pastoralists planning their grazing to mimic nature and openly saying it is the only hope they have of saving their families and saving their culture. Ninety-five percent of that land can only feed people from animals. I remind you that I am talking about most of the world’s land here that controls our fate, including the most violent region of the world, where only animals can feed people from about 95 percent of the land. What we are doing globally 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’ve 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. Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you, Chris. Chris Anderson: Thank you. I have, and I’m sure everyone here has, A) a hundred questions, B) wants to hug you. I’m just going to ask you one quick question. When you first start this and you bring in a flock of animals, it’s desert. What do they eat? How does that part work? How do you start? Allan Savory: Well, we have done this for a long time, and the only time we have ever had to provide any feed is during mine reclamation, where it’s 100 percent bare. But many years ago, we took the worst land in Zimbabwe, where I offered a £5 note in a hundred-mile drive if somebody could find one grass in a hundred-mile drive, and on that, we trebled the stocking rate, the number of animals, in the first year with no feeding, just by the movement, mimicking nature, and using a sigmoid curve, that principle. It’s a little bit technical to explain here, but just that. CA: Well, I would love to — I mean, this such an interesting and important idea. The best people on our blog are going to come and talk to you and try and — I want to get more on this that we could share along with the talk.AS: Wonderful. CA: That is an astonishing talk, truly an astonishing talk, and I think you heard that we all are cheering you on your way. Thank you so much.AS: Well, thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Chris. (Applause)

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Reader Comments

  1. Lorraine Deas

    We still need rain if there is no water things will die the cattle or livestock need to be fed and watered it is hard enough trying to manage a
    small amount of livestock and no finances to purchase more . If this were true why are so many farmers committing suicide in Australia because of livestock dying .If you have orchards or produce farms one cannot have cattle on the same block.

  2. Jared Johnson

    I think environmental science should be a mandatory class in school now. I know it seems a bit extreme, but if we just at least make a small impact on the most stubborn of minds on this topic; there would be a great change.

  3. Perry James Allen

    WE call this Permaculture, our aim, leave the land better than found. Plant a few 1000 tree's, and make it against the law NOT to grow Hemp…a fine or jail if you have more than 10 acres…must grow Hemp.chop and drop at worst, recondition the soil… world's pollution worries ended.,food sorted, no need for fossil fuels. Never a need to fell another tree..USA built on the back of Hemp..2019 worlds largest IMPORTER ..who let that, jobs, jobs are back..plastic is gone, petrol not needed..and then we have #Hempcrete

  4. Stefan Bachrodt

    I DO NOT understand how I am only seeing this now. It boggles my mind!!! I have reviewed so much material from Bill Morrison and Geoff Lawton and only recently has YT suggested these videos! WTF?

  5. Luis perez gomez

    The only solution for saving the planet is during 50 year, one family, only one baby.
    With the actual population we are going to the disaster.

  6. Sakthi Velan

    Nope. Something not so right. The talk seems technical and shows photos but the numbers don't seem to make sense. Sigmoid curve it seems, I seriously doubt the nature of this talk.
    What's the end plan, how will you return the land to nature ? What about the wild animals ?

  7. antonio fortuna

    I dont like this guy. 40 000 elephants killed. He made that mistake back then who knows how many more is capable of.
    “Loving elephants as i do”
    Seriously??? Loving them to the death??
    Gfy pos!!!

  8. benjamin hidalgo

    how do i buy stock in this concept?
    Can we also get this guy to talk with the dumbasses burning the amazon for livestock farming? there's already a desert perfect for it, why don't we use that instead of burning down a forest to create a desert, just to grow livestock? it's the same thing with extra steps, and harming our environment…

  9. Hair Razor Detox

    So cutting down the Amazon wasn’t such a great idea ? They don’t want us living they want us dead. That’s why they want your money to fix issues they created.

  10. kyesniper

    I haven't seen the entire video yet, but am I the only one that is considering the fact that turning desert biomes into tropical biomes, will in fact, kill all of the species that live in the desert?

  11. Henrik Knudsen

    You PROVE that elephants were the mistake.

    Can you accept that you can go wrong elsewhere?

    Search “earth greening co2´´
    Where, among other things, you will find NASA showing, Via satellites that the earth is greener by more CO2.

  12. Vlad Xavier

    Not a denier, just a major skeptic.

    The biggest problem with climate change is that NOBODY will ever come forward with a large and diversified panel of experts (or) at least a mountain of unbiased research that has not yet been funded or hand picked by a major political organization.

    They always say, (look at the science). And I'm always asking, show me the science. From my experience, political bluffs are becoming a much more viable way to swing votes in elections these days. When you have a big enough voice and they claim that you can look at the evidence for yourself, since you usually won't. You simply take them at their word with the idea that its fool proof.

    "99% of scientists agree!"

    (No, 97 of 99 scientists hand picked to do a study on the climate at the University of Chicago *agree*, lobbied for by the Obama Administration). And that same president just bought a $12 Million dollar water front mansion with his wife. Not the most compelling case.

    This topic has become political to the point of retardation and the evidence is not sound when it constantly involves politically backed research and campaigns.

    Anybody remember An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore Jr.?

    He claimed that all 33,000 ice sheets would be gone by 2013 and the polar bears would be submerged. They found that his scientific data had been crunched and falsified in more ways than one. Yet he raised multiple millions from his campaign.

    Ash _

  13. johnmayer2012

    The story of Bhutan sounds exotic. Gross Domestic Happiness. Carbon Neutral. But, wait, do you know that the Bhutanese government is involved in ethnic cleansing of their citizens of Nepali origin? They have evicted hundreds of thousands of citizens of Nepali origin. Such is a double standard of a country that promotes happiness at the expense of minorities.

  14. Edward Bonthrone

    It's interesting how we can have such an affect with our consumption even though you can fit us all in a tiny space – Jacksonville – or 2 Isle of Wights.

  15. Edward Bonthrone

    The science was settled – poor elephants. Still – he did admit it – better than most. But we must be very careful. Einstein said 1000 people can give us the wrong consensus – it only takes 1 to give us the truth. Margaret Thatcher also said consensus must be approached carefully. Kind of obvious but worth repeating.

  16. Terminal Tom

    "there is no alternative… we must use livestock."
    His story before: "there is no alternative but to cull 40,000 large, intelligent mammals."
    OK i get it… this guy is not to be relied on.

  17. Francis Hubert

    I love this manner of speaking that is only found in older people. It's so interesting and makes me wanna listen to him all day long.

  18. Vasudevan Np

    OMG, you had to kill 40,000 elephants and spend a lifetime to learn this? Please do not address the team that approved your idea as experts. If you had asked yourself a simple question (when you looked at the world map) why Indian subcontinent has more arable land % in the world it would have lead you to the right answer, that is India has the largest cattle population in the world… We Indian farmers knew for thousands of years that only cattle keeps the land fertile, this knowledge is so deep into our culture that people even treat cattle at par with the Gods…. I am a proud Indian farmer, I am happy to see that western world is slowly maturing.

  19. FJ RAGS

    This was great, seems simple enough. But wait? Is there money to be made for the ones that are calling the shots? Because the way I see it, it isn't so much Humanity, but greedy powerful leaders that rule the world. So until theres a lil something in it for them? sorry ya all. Just like solar energy. All there money is tied up in Fossil Fuels. Its easy to imagine a creator when you see nature and how it all works so perfectly in balance. but its not easy to believe when you can think a God would put man on this planet.

  20. warrcc c

    God, all is fear, fear, fear, climate change, fear, over popullation, etc. Please stop this apocalyptic nonsense, nothing is gonna happen. Human beings have no power on mother nature. The sun is heating the Earth as did a thounsand years ago when there wasn´t oil companies. The oxygen comes from the ocean not from trees.

  21. Sapa Holliday

    The Earth is living and it moves. In our history we have many migrations and now we live sedentary lives. We build on the land our ancestors chose for it's fertility and bewail when we have over worked or built on it. CO2 is absolutely necessary for life and we can't live without it because it feeds forests and crops and all green things. It has been much higher in the past before we had any technology. It increases before cold periods, mainly due to volcanoes, and we are heading into a colder period now because the Sun is going into a deep solar minimum, number 25. The Sun is what drives our weather. We produce less than 1% of the CO2 on Earth.

  22. Herbert Gearing

    I've heard some cattle farmers have used a similar system of dense herds and daily movement to great effect. They are not only making the land greener but they are out producing their competitors by an exponential margin per acre. The only catch is that they are moving their herd every morning. They claim the grass grows much faster if it is grazed thoroughly and regularly. The cattle will eat more and will be less picky about weed when they are kept in a small pasture with a large herd it is a survival trigger for each cow to try to get as much as possible when they sense a limited food supply. They eat the pasture down lower and leave plenty of fertilizer which stimulates the grass to grow quickly and the cycle continues. Apparently this system is beneficial for the grass and the cattle since both become more productive and profitable.

  23. tomtolbert32

    Look how Israel took sand and made a garden! That is not the reason all Muslims including those in Congress hate them! Israel cares for its citizens and Muslims don’t and that is mostly the reason for the hate!

  24. Mr. tira77x7

    A very good and enlightening video Allan! I live in Indonesia where rainfall is very high, and I guess no desertification here… hope there will never be, but we have people burning forests to clear land for palm tree plantation, and that is very sad.

  25. Mina Hosein

    What is happening! Why don't we see these people on TV on regular bases! Everybody (especially the stupid politicians) should see this talk and stop BSing when they have not enough knowledge!

  26. Maria Rose

    OMG!!! I hope 3.7 million people that watched this also shared it to make people aware. Why aren't we doing this everywhere? This talk gave me chills. All I can think of is the Amazon burning recently and they just made the area more barren.

  27. vin russo

    The earth is in the process of greening. Even NASA admits that. Co2 levels have clearly made things greener. During the dinosaurs Co2 was 5 times what it is today, it's plant food, so no surprise.

  28. Celtic Phoenix

    This makes amazing sense but my question is this: If we increase the herd sizes to manage the soil health then how do we manage the methane lvls produced by bovine belches?

  29. david cook

    There are top scientists with opposing conclusions . Savory has admitted a past mistake with the elephant cull . I believe he is sincere but i wish politics could be kept out of science and inform we the normal people

  30. victor bruun

    co2 is what plants crave. Produce more co2 and there will be even more greening. Climate change hysteria is dangerous to the environment. Anyone that wants to control co2 hates nature and hates the circle of life.

  31. apokalypse 2016

    there is not a CO2-Problem , there is a CO2-Swindle !!! .. plants and trees need CO2 to grow .. climate change is happening by geoengineering via HAARP and chemtrails , not by CO2 … do some research ..

  32. David Normandin

    Earth did not green up until there were enough green algae to support amoebas and the cycle of life began. Earth is not a vegetarian.

  33. Tony Evans

    Very interesting and sounds good but Co2 by humans is such a small part of the global warming, global warming has happened well before man started fucking the planet, and if you go back before 18000 you will see that the trend is for us to go into a bad ice age. That is reality if you ignore the scare mungers. So don't get rid of your wooly jumpers.

  34. Tony Taliaferro

    This is the solution to almost all of the world's problems and should be taught to everyone from kindergarten onward and was in 2013! Please, what are the latest updates and have we increased this idea and implemented it into the land's affected?

  35. Jim Oerther

    Hopefully he will someday come to realize that current theories about climate change are as wrong as his theory about the elephants causing deserts.

  36. arthur Me

    The image of the earth that he shows is a lie the is is going to cool this year because it’s going through a space and the part of space it in is cooling the earth

  37. MrThump30

    I found it very interesting that at 8:49 he stated this process of desertification started about 10,000 years ago and has accelerated thinking herding animals are the problem. It is interesting because the earth had just come out of the Pleistocene into the Holocene, the age we live in now, after a weird climatic event called the Younger Dryas. A event where the earth global temperature warmed up really fast, cooled off really fast, and then warmed up again all in a very short period of time. Which also correlated with a massive die off of large herding mega mammals and their predators. Does this all tie together and are we actually trying to change a climate that started over 10,000 years ago? Side note, many scientist are starting to believe that the Sahara desert may only be as young as 6,000 years old.

  38. Sandman 89

    Just watched this can’t believe people didn’t know this. I think the majority of farmers would know this. Despite what the vegans say we cannot survive without cattle.

  39. Reincarnation

    This man is a visionary…but who else knows about him other than us on Y/T? All politicians talk about climate change but they are ignorant of simple remedial measures like these. May be if we 3 million can write to our political representatives and educate them…how about it, folks?

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