Allan Savory has been receiving a lot of attention based on his recent TED talk. I hate to dignify his ludicrous ideas with a response, even in this this little-read space, but I can’t seem to help myself. Savory’s general ideas are utter nonsense, as I will illustrate in this brief essay. Further, as you can see in his TED talk, he practices an approach steeped in the command-and-control patriarchal hubris for which civilized humans have become infamous and which led directly to the disaster in which we find ourselves firmly ensconced. Not surprisingly, many of my white male colleagues fail to see the ongoing disasters for what they are.
Admitting he participated in the murder of 40,000 elephants, Savory belatedly discovered the strategy failed to accomplish the stated objective. Rather that admit failure, he proposes an exponential increase in omnicide, specifically by using livestock to destroy the remaining life in the world’s grasslands.
If you’re looking for a more extreme example of command-and-control management underlain by patriarchal hubris, you might be looking a long time.
Savory repeatedly uses the phrase, “mimicking nature” as if speaking the words makes it so. Instead of
mimicking abusing nature with implements of destruction, perhaps we could instead rely upon native species and natural processes (e.g., fire allowed to spread at the scale, frequency, and season coincident with the evolutionary history of organisms in an area). Grazing is not the same as blazing, disturbance advocates aside.
Livestock represent the single most destructive force in the history of western North America, as I explained about 15 months ago. Cattle wreak havoc on soil via several avenues, most notably by compacting soil, removing organic matter, increasing runoff, and decreasing infiltration and percolation of precipitation. The wreaking of havoc is not restricted to soil, but instead extends to other organisms. Exactly
nada zilch none zip bupkiss zero species native to North America evolved in the presence of cattle. Don’t even get me started on the completely irrelevant comparison between bison and cattle, two species with disparate behavior, diet, and morphology.
Next up, Savory offers cattle as a cure for global warming. Never mind that methane generated in the stomachs of Savory’s beloved ruminant animals contributes significantly to climate chaos, perhaps surpassing the damage done by automobiles. If you’re looking for logic, look elsewhere.
In other words, Savory proposes using cattle to heal the land (damaged primarily by cattle) while also reversing global warming (by ratcheting up methane production). And yes, people are taking him seriously. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but this is the same old bombing-the-village-to-save-it routine with which we’re all well-acquainted by now.
And, on the topic of logic, what are livestock supposed to do? That’s right, convert plant biomass to animal biomass. Along the way, the animals remove biomass from the land. That’s the whole point of the enterprise, after all: convert biomass into a form suitable for human consumption, and stripping the landbase is collateral damage.
Because this entire notion is nearly too absurd to believe, I insist upon providing a recap. Savory proposes using the single most destructive force in the history of western North America to heal western North America. Were he alive, even George Orwell would be embarrassed. Stunningly, that’s not all. Savory also claims that a primary contributor to climate chaos will be used to reverse climate chaos. And, just to clarify, people are taking seriously Savory and his ideas.
As if logic were not sufficient to put a stop to Savory’s stupidity, we have data. Droves of data. And all those data point in the opposite direction Savory would have
us you believe. Consider, as starting points for debunking Savory’s ideas, the following print publication and the online references linked here, here, and here, as well as this essay at Real Climate. Contrary to Savory’s crop-the-photograph approach to presentation of information, these publications are rooted in the process of science.
Briske, D.D., J.D. Derner, J.R. Brown, S.D. Fuhlendorf, W.R. Teague, K.M. Havstad, R.L. Gillen, A.J. Ash, and W.D. Wilms. 2008. Rotational grazing on rangelands: reconciliation of perception and experimental evidence. Rangeland Ecology & Management 61:3–17.
John Carter, Allison Jones, Mary O’Brien, Jonathan Ratner, and George Wuerthner. 2014. Holistic Management: Misinformation on the Science of Grazed Ecosystems. International Journal of Biodiversity, http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/163431.
I am not suggesting these papers mention Savory by name, although they point out that his ideas are deleterious to soil productivity and biological diversity of native species. When acting within their profession, most scientists criticize ideas, not people. More science is described here and here.
Nor am I suggesting science as a panacea. Science as a process and a way of knowing relies upon models, concepts, predictions, and data to generate reliable knowledge. However, science is not capable of addressing some questions, particularly as they apply to the personal lives of individuals. These and a few other caveats notwithstanding, I prefer data-driven science over anecdote-driven marketing for most matters.