^ Photo credit: Seth J. Itzkan
By Seth J. Itzkan, Co-founder, Soil4Climate
“It is urgent that we begin to change public opinion to recognizing that management is the problem, not livestock … Without livestock, we’re not going to save civilization as we know it.”
With these words, Allan Savory reinforced his call to action at the 35th annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, where he was a featured speaker along with marine agriculture innovator, Bren Smith, founder of GreenWave.
The special event, held October 24th, 2015, was hosted by the Schumacher Center for New Economics. The Center carries on the work of internationally renown economist E. F. Schumacher, author of the seminal book, Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered.
According to its website, the goal of the Schumacher Center is “… to educate the public about an economics that supports both people and the planet” and the Schumacher Lectures seek to “… capture some of the most visionary voices that speak to the urgent need to transform our economic, social and cultural systems ….” The dual speaker event was titled, “Cattle and Kelp: Agriculture in a New Economy.”
Speaking first, under a wonderful domed rotunda at the Churchtown Dairy in Churchtown, New York, Savory focused his comments on the need for a holistic approach to management in all sectors of society, not just agriculture. “You cannot, in any management, do anything that avoids social, environmental, and economic complexity,” said Savory. He explained that even though his grazing method was effective in early trials, results over a few years with other practitioners were erratic. He realized, then, that the methodology hadn’t yet integrated social and economic factors. “At that point, the word ‘holistic’ came in,” said Savory.
Savory lamented the destructive wake of agriculture: “Over 20 civilizations have failed in different regions of the world because of their agriculture over the centuries, and now we’re facing global catastrophe culminating in climate change.” Emphasizing the particular problem of erosion, Savory said, there is yearly “… ten tons of eroding soil, for every one of you (referring to the audience) and every one of the seven billion people alive today. So, we’re producing as much as twenty times dead, eroding soil as food needed … ”
Addressing topical issues of vegetarianism, cow methane, and the potential of carbon drawdown in grasslands, Savory said, though important, they were ultimately distractions that didn’t change the urgency for integrating livestock into proper land management. To illustrate his point, Savory did a thought experiment. He said, that, hypothetically, even if the entire world went vegetarian, and even if cow methane emissions were far higher, and even if grassland restoration absorbed no carbon at all (none of which, of course, are realistic), humanity still has no choice but to use livestock, managed properly, to reverse desertification. We can debate the merits of vegetarianism and the quantities of methane and carbon, but, according to Savory, this doesn’t change the conclusion. In order to reverse global desertification and regenerate the world’s dying soils he said, “You are going to have to deal with the complexity and use livestock,” managing the animals as proxies for the large grazers that co-evolved with the ecosystem and that provided the necessary biological digestion of plants.
“We never yet solved a biological problem [desertification] of this magnitude, or anything approaching it, with technology… No technology even imaginable in science fiction can reverse desertification,” said Savory.