How Cows Could Green the World’s Deserts and Reverse Climate Change

Could millions of cows help save the environment? Yes, says Allan Savory, a grassland ecosystem pioneer, in this fantastic new 20 minute TED-talk.

Animals grazing grass, when used right, do not turn grassland into desert. Savory used to belive that, a long time ago, but he’s now realized that was a tragic mistake (in a very personal way). The animals do the opposite. They make the desert green again.

Close to the end he claims that using this technique, turning deserts green again, could possibly bind enough carbon in the ground to make atmospheric carbon levels return to their pre-industrial state.

This would totally reverse climate change. It would feed millions of people. And it would turn grass-eating animals into environmental heroes.

If Savory’s right this is a total game-changer, and he seems to know what he’s talking about. Watch the talk, it’s amazing. What do you think?

34 comments

Top comments

  1. Farmer B
    My husband and I went paleo/primal/LCHF in August 2008 and it ignited a passion in us to be involved in the whole process. We retired, left our life in the city and bought a farm where we're raising grass-fed beef as a way to help restore the planet and it's people (using Savory's techniques). You never know where your LCHF journey will take you. I'm not sure we could have done it without the energy we have from eating this way. We're loving every minute of it.
    Read more →
  2. No BS
    Leandro N: You are incorrect. Ask any serious climate scientist (99% of them) and they will confirm global climate change. Stop spreading lies.
    Read more →

All comments

  1. Mike Graf
    Joel Salatin of Poly Face farms taught me this lesson first. He talks about the carbon cycle of grasses and herbivores.

    for example read his book "Folks, this aint normal"

  2. Sabine
    Thanks for posting this!

    More and more people support Allan's position now, and many more have seen it work for them. Joel Salatin has been practising this for many years, I agree.
    (In this video he comments on what he, Allan, is up against in the fight for the earth: http://vimeo.com/8239427)
    Yet, he had huge success with his methods in many places all over the world already.
    I can only hope, that this message gets through to enough people on time, before it is too late.
    The world's soils are being lost at alarming rates by current agricultural practices based on outdated beliefs, desertification is rampant. Wheat, corn, soy, and bad animal husbandry practices are hurting us and the planet in many ways.
    It is grain farming, more than anything else that is degrading our environment, part of which Lierre Keith discusses in her book :The Vegetarian Myth, a worthy read.
    Huge areas of the earth can be saved by cows and other grass eaters (they use sheep in a project in Sweden), AND would give us humans lots of grass-fed meats to eat.
    Sounds very good to me.

  3. Jaime
    Thanks for posting this video! Really revealing! This proves, once again, how utterly wrong we are about science, economy and everything, but no one wants to open their eyes no matter how hard evidence hits us.
  4. Mike H
    Absolutely mind blowing. The more I learn about low carb, the more I realize how arrogant we have been for so long about so much science. We have thought we're so right about so much and we're so completely wrong. This is truly amazing. Thank you so much for posting this. I hope the price of beef comes down one day because of this! Just think, a no longer warming world of healthy people living off grass fed beef, as opposed to a warming world of sick people eating bread.
  5. p01
    I highly recommend this guy's writings and videos also:
    http://www.patternliteracy.com/
  6. Michelle
    Truly amazing. Why are we not listening to these people? America has goverened the world for so long, it's now time they listened.
  7. Thanks for posting this, Andreas, and thanks also to everyone else who has added links. A truly fascinating insight into what could be done to make a real difference. And it's about looking back to the past - again - instead of thinking that the ideas we've dreamt up in recent times are the only ways to look at the world. Bad news for fertilizer companies :)
  8. Farmer B
    My husband and I went paleo/primal/LCHF in August 2008 and it ignited a passion in us to be involved in the whole process. We retired, left our life in the city and bought a farm where we're raising grass-fed beef as a way to help restore the planet and it's people (using Savory's techniques). You never know where your LCHF journey will take you. I'm not sure we could have done it without the energy we have from eating this way. We're loving every minute of it.
  9. yuma
    The nihilistic, fanatic, brainwashed, wrecker, vegetarian/grains emperor, is not only naked, it's been exposed for the whole world to see.

    @ michelle; America does not listen because the governmet is controlled by an entrenched, amoral, oligarchy.

  10. Dhiraj Gupta
    I wish Dr. Andreas would do a TED talks session, I'm sure it would get a lot of attention!
  11. Leandro N
    The empirical data never supported the global warming theory. Ask a tue climatoligist. The world is cooling for at least the last five years. The only controller of the temperature is the sun. CO2 is the gas of life. The more CO2 the more plants grow.
    Reply: #15
  12. As I said last August at Ancestral Health, "Cattle are Carbon Negative!" The entire talk is on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoZtMKtUeME&feature=youtu.be . That point is presented at about the 10:13 mark.

    Meat is medicine.

  13. No BS
    Leandro N: You are incorrect. Ask any serious climate scientist (99% of them) and they will confirm global climate change. Stop spreading lies.
  14. JAUS
    Bullshit. You have no idea what what you are talking about. All serious scientist agree about climate change. You only listen to nutjobs that confirms what you want to belive. Look up "wishful thinking" in the dictionary.
  15. yuma
    Dear global warming fanatics, I guess you do not know about the hacked e-mails from East Anglia University in the UK, which clearly indicated the global warming "scientists" concealed climate cooling data since 1996, refused to honor freedom of information requests of their data and colluded to silence opposing views (do a google search).

    Perhaps you haven't heard of the Antarctica's subsoil analysis, which confirmed there was a severe worldwide warming period during the Middle Ages that certainly was not caused by fossil fuels or the numerous confirmed warming periods during the Paleolithic and Pleistocene periods.

    But relax, after we increase the cattle population in the world, there will never be a global warming threat.

  16. Sabine
    It is about environmental degradation!!!!

    No matter what the climate does, or what you choose to eat,
    it is undisputed that we are loosing top-soil at an alarming rate, and that desertification is happening at an alarming rate, with huge and dire implications.

    If we don't do something NOW, vegans, vegetarians, climate change believers and unbelievers, and others alike will see shortages of food, water, social unrest..... and much more...

    It is stupid to argue and ignore what is actually staring you in the face.

    Reply: #18
  17. sten bj
    Sabine, I agree totally with you. The earlier comments about climate change are totally out of context. If climate change depends on this or that doesn't really matter when it comes to desertification. What matters is that Allan Savory has showed that it is possible with low technology means to reverse desertification completely independent of climate change.
    70 years deterioration can be visibly reversed in a few years!
    He showed how to do it for us today and he has showed it for impowerished people before, that through it have got out of their trash situation begging for UN and other aids.

    A secondary effect is that the cruel practices with feedlot beef may soon be ending as it will not be able to compete with this natural meat production, managed the Savory way!
    It has taken hold in places in Argentina already.
    (To complete the circle we hope now that the cattle managing is taking place on horse back again, to subtract that 4x4 addition to fossil fuel burning.)

    We didn't miss the message, but it looks like some writers above never really saw the great video!
    Here is a link to another presentation by Allan made in 2009 in Ireland, that I just found and watched.... Interestingly enough his polite comments about the Irish grass land management boiled down to that, it could improve significantly ...., inspite of all the rain!

    I gather that the mismanagement (too small and unmanaged herds) resulted in a thinner than optimum topsoil layer.
    I gather the effect of too thin topsoil is more run off losses of fertilizer and feces in the rains, a significant factor in Ireland. So it is not all about deserts!

    http://vimeo.com/8239427

  18. Sabine
    Thank you for your post and the link, Sten bj.
    Yes, there is so much more to this.
  19. FrankG
    Please let's not confuse "climate change" -- which is a fact of life on this planet (always has been and always will) -- with "man-made climate change" -- which is at best, a controversial subject that does NOT have a clear scientific consensus.

    Even if it did have a consensus, that is not how science is supposed to work anyway... it is a not a voting process but about being right and that only takes a single dissenting voice... Galileo did not have a consensus but that did not make him any less right :-)

    Don't forget: that in terms of science we do not have a "control" planet against which to compare the dire predictions of man-made climate-change... we do not have clear-cut cause and effect. Heck the computer models can't even get next week's weather forecast correct so how on earth can they say with such confidence what will happen in the next 100 years?!?

    No, I agree with Sabine and sten bj (and this blog post) that we would do better to focus on degradation of the planet (our only home so far) which in large part CAN be attributed to the proliferation of the human species and our scant regard for sustainable use of limited resources. We need to clean up our act in regards to pollution and waste. We need sustainable farming and our current reliance on fossil fuels to buoy up the industrial farming practices is NOT sustainable. How on earth can it be cheaper for my local stores (in eastern Canada) to stock "fresh" produce from China rather than from local farms?!?

  20. sten bj
    Hi Frank, great to see you onboard !
    The big problem with Allan's ideas is that they are simply too good! That means we have to work very very hard to get them somewhere further. The ideas threaten the mass supply of fossil fuel fertilizers, minerals and seeds to farmers, even parts of the profitable consumer society, as farmers can again mass produce ready produce.
    The threat to the seed industry is the "worst" as it is a threat to the biotech industry, an industry that many of us believe is in the position to buy whatever agricultural policies they want, from having seen the approvals for largely untested crops they have got through the approval process, not only in the US.
    When the Savory ideas are exposed to mainstream media I suspect that there will be widespread criticism and bad mouthing.

    After all, Monsanto is picturing themselves as the corporation that is needed to "feed the world", or "save the planet" . And although through Frankenstein technology many accept it is an "only solution".

    The facts that topsoil is disintegrated and waters and fishlife systematically destroyed through their fossil fuel based approach has been given a back seat and instead place has been given to the senseless doctrine that "livestock is bad because it produces methane".
    That "spin" is older as the Romans is nothing new, but the methods improve and the audience increases.

    That the methane given off as farts from cattle remains constant as whatever is produced is degraded to CO2 within 15 years is a fact that is "forgotten" Similarly that all methane and CO2 produced by grass fed livestock is taken from the atmosphere, not fossil fuel is also forgotten, along with the fact that properly managed livestock that Allan has introduced
    BINDS carbon in the ground, year over year.
    But be sure that these corporations will never give up without a big fight, so we better spread the messages as wide and as fast as we can!

    Anyway I am pleased that a search of Google news on Allan Savory gave a lot of hits today, some hope!
    But as I said above, it will be interesting to see WHICH arguments will be used to tell the most of us that Savorys ideas are "unrealistic dreams".
    I devoted many words above about methane as it has been the most used bats to degrade livestock as "greenhouse gas producers" in the past and same can be expected again.

  21. yuma
    I also agree with Sabine and sten bj (and this blog post) that we would do better to focus on degradation of the planet.

    However, I believe it's a quixotic pursuit.

    According to the scientists:

    1. In 8 billion years, the sun will grow into a huge orange mass that will gobble up all the planets in its system.

    2. In 2195 a comet, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs, will strike the earth, effectively ending modern civilization and wiping out - during and after the strike - the great majority of humans.

    3. The universe is constantly expanding, but not forever. Eventually it will contract squishing all of us.

    In addition, we have a bunch of wackos that control a nuclear arsenal that could wipe out the earth.

    Like Sir John Maynard Keynes said "in the long run we are all dead."

    Reply: #26
  22. Sabine
    @yuma

    Better being dead in the long run than now (i.e. Sahel Zone) or in the next 20-30 years (ever more places). And what about our health and well-being, our peace and prosperity......? All this will come out of making some smart changes, as those suggested in Allan Savory's talk, for example.
    Wackos with nuclear arsenals become superfluous in a world where basic needs are met.

  23. yuma
    @ Sabine - Not all is lost...yet. While here let's make the best of what we have.

    People with basic needs met are irrelevant to lunatic wackos (i.e. Hitler).

  24. Sabine
    Doing something for the good of everyone is a good antidote for feelings of doom and gloom.
    So let us work together and spread the word, so ALL can enjoy their lives.
    Let us reverse the damage we are doing.

    I prefer to live on a green thriving earth. Why would anyone choose to live on a parched dead planet?
    We all can do something worthwhile here, let's get started!

  25. Leandro N
    Sorry but I have to disagree. We cannot degradate the planet. We can do nothing about the Saara desert or even the Ocean because they are too big. We just lack the energy to deal with the physical process in planet-wide scale. Even if we sum up human activity and energy production we are just too damn small. The earth is almost entirely empty (check Google Maps). It only makes sense to talk about LOCAL degradation.
    Reply: #28
  26. Sabine
    Over the last 50+ years, I witnessed environmental degradation committed by humans on a grand scale, and I also have seen many successful restoration efforts.
    If you would have watched the video, you would have seen with your own eyes what can be achieved.
    I have seen rivers and lakes poisoned so badly by industrial, communal, and agricultural wastes, that they were in fact dead and did not support any life. Swimming in these bodies of water was not allowed. After 20 years of clean-up efforts, fish have returned, and swimming is allowed again.
    It is sad, that it was allowed to happen in the first place. Of course, the various polluters were not inclined to comply with any clean-up efforts, believing that the money they save/make in the short-term for themselves is superior to long-term benefits for all. (And, of course, they may have your mind-set: Let's not even try! Because you take your own limits to be the limits of the world.)
    I have seen wetlands and forests restored. And I have seen deserts greened. No project is too big, it can always be broken down into many small projects.
    We certainly have not been too small a force to eradicate 30-90 million buffalo in North America alone, and stripped most of this continent and others of most of their forests.
    If we are capable to put such gargantuan efforts into destruction, we can certainly also achieve the opposite. Where there is a will, there is a way!
  27. sten bj
    Sorry, i gave you a point by mistake when replying. Please make up for it!
    I however agree 100% with Sabine.
    But the process is rather simple, no need to "do Shara" "all in one". It must of course be tackled in chunks of say initially 1000 - 10,000 acres, in from near the seas. For each 1000 acres I guess something like 1000 cattle need to be added, as per the brilliant Savory model, paying for the projects in a sound incremental fashion. But at least initially the cattle need to be of very "heat-resiliant" models as no tree covers.
    Maybe huge controlled herds of camels ?
    Incremental growth can then continue over maybe the following 100 - 500 years, depending on demand and our ability to contain human population explosion.
    Some water, but I guess less than a few % of what would have been required with conventional methods may be required, more in the start as then there is nothing to bind any rain water with.

    The equator is far down in Africa and the northern edge of Sahara is actually a lot further away from the equator than the southern end of South Africa, meaning the reason for high temperatures in Sahara is largely the present desert conditions there.
    Savory has already successfully recovered deserts much closer to the equator than the Sahara. When a few million acres at say the Northern edge of Sahara has been recovered it will be interesting to see how the climate will change, but that's for another post!

  28. kimbo
    drum-beating and hunting people .............?
  29. Moose
    Seriously,
    The only constant is that the climate has ALWAYS changed.
    I am all for Paleo, but stop the lies about the climate.
    M.
    Reply: #31
  30. sten
    I take your comment as you are another proponent for burning more fossil fuel, or a so called "sceptic".
    One of the most independent measure that things have been shifted very far away in the last 200 year is that Ocean pH has dropped 0.1 pH-units. Have seen no evidence this has happened before.
    All combustion reduces potential pH by creating CO2. Around half of the additional CO2 from long term stored fuels or fossil fuels has become dissolved in sea water. H2CO3 is the acid which forms when CO2 is dissolved in water and it directly reduces the pH. One result is destruction of corral reefs which is set to worsen as long as present policies continues to preserve the interests of oil companies, including the new very destructive fracking.

    Did you mean to get applauded by big oil with your comment, or are you a paid sceptic that puts in these type of comments anywhere it could fit, long after the main discussion ended?

  31. Moose
    Sten,

    I did not mention anything about petroleum based fuel. Its your mind who sees things that are not there. Of which you show proof in your reply.

    Every argument you bring to the table has no basis whatsoever.
    97% of all CO2 comes from nature itself. Of all CO2, 400ppm, only 12 ppm comes from our human activity.
    And you know what: deserts are greening from all that CO2, source NASA:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130708103521.htm?utm_sou...

    On top of that AGW claims have failed:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/04/2013-was-not-a-good-year-for-ca...

    Even your ocean acidification fails:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/09/25/ipcc-on-acid-if-they-are-virtua...

    You haven't seen it before, because no one ever measured it before 1950. So your alarmistic claim holds no ground.

    Oh, and the coral reefs are not so sensitive after all:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/01/23/palaus-coral-reefs-surprisingly...

    So please stop your silly attack and stick to the scientific facts. And these facts show that the AGW meme is just but an alarmistic bed time horror story to get money from the government.

    M.

  32. sten
    A quick reply to Moose.
    Acidification and making less alkaline is the same. The article agrees that pH has dropped 0.1.
    It goes on to state that it isn't acid yet as pH is still above 7!

    First pH recorded 1850, reading 8.17 and today it reads around 8.07. in the ocean today than 164 years ago. Where did you get 1950 from ?
    Please check how many tonnes of CO2 0.1 pH drop represents. It is a gigantic shift in a very short time. The shift means that 25% more acid or hydrogen ions (H+) has been added to the oceans.
    How many tonnes of CO2 that represents has been calculated elsewhere.

    Co2 + H2O becomes H2CO3 in water. Same in our bodies and we die when we cannot expel the formed acid.

    Please also GOOGLE Alan Savory to see what he has achieved (not what he says) in the field of greening deserts and see what happened before, with almost the same CO2 concentration.
    Deserts grow allover the world. Look at the map to see where the green is not growing instead!
    The claim that sand, air and CO2 by itself greens deserts is not even supported in the article, only in the headings. Where are the changes in Sahara? Please look again!

    But we know that CO2 promotes growth but without water and water binding there will still be just deserts. Sorry.
    Trees in cities grow quicker due to more CO2 from traffic. It does not change that CO2 is a green house gas and causes more heat to be trapped here than escaping from here with higher ppms of it in the air.
    That we seem to go towards some kind of ice age in near-polar areas seem to be due to that ocean currents from the equator areas become saltier and hence denser and sinks when cooled at lower latitudes than before, not delivering the heat to the polar regions as they used to. Directly caused by warming of equatorial waters AND previous melting of the polar ices diluting the surface water making it less dense. It could lead to a polarization of heat with very cold poles and hot equator. Something that may already be happening in the South pole.
    The cold springs over few years and this years very cold June in Scandinavia can well be indications of such ice age to come.

    Also Mercola has an article about binding carbon in the soil and improving grazing quality and get better and safer meat without CAFOs
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/07/01/agricul...

    Also please check out how Joel Salatin increases yield through improving soil by locking carbon in it. And Savory has several projects in the US now.

    If you thought that CO2 did not come from nature I am sorry for you. The problem is that so much of it is sequestred in fossil fuels now, and when we continue to break these stores and burn it we shift the balance to something that humans and higher life may not survive in. The planet will, together with different life forms, like those thriving on the ocean floor in suplhur spewing "climate" probably survive many more changes, maybe with a different life.

    The common denominator in past cultures that disappeared is that the people ignored the rule to take more than you give back to nature, Easter Island and many other places are said to have been covered by trees, Trees that supported myriads of life through direct shelters, keeping waters. Etc.

    The effects of burning lots of petroleum, or fossil fuel are unknown and it is not alarmist to point out that it is not a risk free use of resources. There are wind and unlimited solar resources that have comparable small effects on climate. And if you think oil burning does not matter, the alternative energy sources would never matter.

    Have a nice day Moose.

  33. Mike S.
    Properly managed livestock grazing can reverse desertification. Wow. That's simply amazing. I am a serious skeptic regarding climate change and think the predictions of climate catastrophe are vastly overblown, but that does not affect in the slightest my view of how important of what Allan has proposed is. The benefits to humanity and to the environment would be immense.

    sten - while it is true that CO2 does not, by itself, "green deserts", in general plants require less water for a given amount of growth under higher CO2 concentrations. Thus, higher CO2 would aid the process Allan describes.

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