Category Archives: climate change

Allan Savory: “Agriculture is More Destructive than Coal Mining”

Note that this post is part of a series of posts that I am making after attending the first ever Savory Institute International Conference held last week in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado.

Allan Savory inside the Boulder Theater. June 2013.

The first talk to kick off the Savory Institute International Conference held in Boulder, Colorado last week was by the institute’s founder, Allan Savory.

Savory began his talk by explaining that he’s been addressing the subject of desertification for fifty years.

He rattled off soil erosion numbers. . . “our planet is losing 80-100 billion tons of soil per year,” calling that “the most frightening statistic in the world.”

He named some of the factors related to this soil loss, which included the burning of grasslands around the world, the loss of forests, the loss of biodiversity, and the silting of continental shelves.

Then, he explained to us that because healthy soils are an important natural reservoir of water, today we have a big problem of decreased effectiveness of rainfall due to degraded and eroded soil. This is caused by agricultural practices, not by climate change. Because healthy soils sequester Carbon, large soil losses and resting soils have led to a reduced capacity to mitigate climate change. So, agriculture is more destructive than coal mining or anything else going on in the world today. [1]

He questioned why people aren’t more aware of these facts, and then, proceeded to answer how we got ourselves into this situation.

He explained that the change began in the grasslands of the world when early humans developed plants and animals for food which altered or eliminated the grasslands. And, he explained that humans shelve their problems for future generations.

He went on by listing three problems that are causing an acceleration of these wrong agricultural practices: population growth; exploding technological advances; and a modern educational system which divides knowledge into parts so that we no longer see the whole.

Savory was on a roll here already, when next, he said he doesn’t understand why something that makes no sense, like turning 40% of the U.S. corn crop into ethanol is a policy, and there are so few people who protest it.

He questioned a system where not one dollar is spent saving soil but we spend billions looking for new oil reserves. “The world is leaderless,” he said.

He warned that, “Worse wars will be fought over water than oil.”

So, those are the problems, what is the Savory Institute doing to make solutions?

The Savory Institute is combining science, social, and environmental principles to reverse desertification at Savory Hubs which are popping up around the world. The goal is to remove the barriers to the human creativity and knowledge that we have, and then, teach and share this knowledge.

“The barriers to sensibility are 100 percent human caused,” he said. Working in Zimbabwe, Savory finds, is a good fit since “if any change occurs, it’ll happen in a small nation, not a large nation” further stating that such work would be impossible in the U.S.

Working with Zimbabwe leaders, he has seen the anger which arises from confusion of mixed messages from multiple sources that suggest different agricultural solutions. Who are these small nations to believe?

He likes the openness of agricultural policy in Zimbabwe, and then describes what it is like to pass agricultural legislation in the London Parliament, which he visited. There are so many complex pages to read, that the voters in Parliament give up trying to understand it, and just turn it back to those who wrote it to let them decide.

More quotes . . .

“We do not have a larger problem than our rising population and our deteriorating environment.”

Since the world is so very complex, “we need a holistic context.

“The role of the government in agriculture is to get out of the way for human creativity, and to remove the policy barriers.”

Bringing up another important world problem, he said that we have got to find benign sources of energy and develop them.

And yet another, “Because of desertification and other problems, many people are already migrating.”

“Nobody is talking about agriculture. Because of our agriculture, climate change will continue.”

“Although agriculture is the problem, it can also be the solution.”

He said that the world is crying out for leadership that will shift public opinion and that will come from ordinary people in communities. He added that most people are inherently good.

Then, he closed his talk with this question, “What can ordinary people do?”

Savory’s answer was a challenge to the audience with a call to action, “If you care about your children, put it on a war footing. Look in the mirror and ask yourself what did you do when you were in the prime of your life to help solve these problems?”

[1] This is to say that healthy soils would be capable of mitigating the CO2 that has been released from the burning of fossil fuels. This will be covered more fully in an upcoming post.



(Click to enlarge)

Photo Credit: Allan Savory by Kay McDonald.

Desertification Map Credit: Soil map and soil climate map, USDA-NRCS, Soil Survey Division, World Soil Resources, Washington D.C.

Previous related post here: The Savory Institute Conference.

The Savory Institute Conference

Last Thursday and Friday I was privileged to attend the first ever annual Savory Institute International Conference right here in my home town of Boulder, Colorado. The title of the conference was, “Transforming the Landscape: Using Holistic Management to Create Global Impact.”

Over the next week, or so, I’ll be making a series of posts reporting on and inspired by that conference.

If you don’t know who Allan Savory is, check out his TED talk here. This TED talk from earlier this year went viral and has now had over 1.3 million views!

Born in South Africa, Savory has spent his life trying to combat desertification, a problem covering large regions of the globe, through the integration of holistically managed livestock systems. To clarify, overgrazing which destroys roots causes desertification, whereas Savory’s holistic management approach is a system of regenerative grazing.

“It helps to think of soil as a living organism covered with skin like a human. We can live with a certain percentage of our skin damaged, but if too high a percentage is damaged, we die. So, too, does soil and thus most life…” —— Allan Savory

When I arrived at the conference I knew I’d come to a special gathering. The Boulder Theater room was filled with the energy of people who were friendly, enthusiastic, and optimistic. By a show of hands, there was a strong showing of people under age 30 — something that is unusual in Ag these days. There were many cowboy hats and boots, an indication that quite a few people attending were from the real world.

Representatives from Savory “Hubs” were there from all over the world to tell us what was happening in their particular hub — along with some history of why their hub was created. We heard a wide variety of stories about broken lands, broken farming systems, and the resulting broken humans — followed by the process, the hope, and the success of holistic repair and regeneration.

There was a wide array of audience attendees. I met a newly retired Cal Poly professor who’d taught holistic management most of his teaching career, and an Australian rancher and agricultural instructor who brought his son with him. I sat next to a young lady from Chile, who told me that though she grew up in Georgia, she’s now managing the property that her grandfather purchased in Chile in the 1950′s. She is in her first year of using holistic management practices on that land, running 40,000 sheep and 4,000 cattle across the property. I also met a college student from Tennessee who was there to find out more about how land use impacts climate change, and a Massachusetts Mom who was working in the organic and eat local food movement in her community.

There was a great speaker line-up to teach us about soil, carbon sequestration, holistic systems, grasslands and rangeland management, the enormous challenge of gathering data and being scientific in complex systems, the limits to growth, broken monetary systems, hope, and challenges for the future.

Allan Savory’s talk which kicked off the event contained one prized quote after another.

Stay tuned.

(NEXT POST HERE: Allan Savory: Agriculture is More Destructive than Coal Mining)

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan & How it Relates to Agriculture

President Barack Obama. Mexico City, Mexico. May 3, 2013.
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

I’ve perused the Climate Action Plan document and these excerpts below are the key statements and paragraphs which relate to agriculture. Most of this is already known, but of interest and importance, nonetheless. Note that there was a lot about forestry which I did not include. The headings in bold are the category titles from which the the excerpts were taken. My only comments are that there is great irony between the two statements in the Case for Action . . . sigh . . . and that there is no mention of which types of agricultural practices sequester more carbon.


“And increasing floods, heat waves, and droughts have put farmers out of business, which is already raising food prices dramatically.”

“Our scientists will design new fuels, and our farmers will grow them.”

Developing and Deploying Advanced Transportation Technologies:
Biofuels have an important role to play in increasing our energy security, fostering rural economic development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. That is why the Administration supports the Renewable Fuels Standard, and is investing in research and development to help bring next-generation biofuels on line. For example, the United States Navy and Departments of Energy and Agriculture are working with the private sector to accelerate the development of cost-competitive advanced biofuels for use by the military and commercial sectors. More broadly, the Administration will continue to leverage partnerships between the private and public sectors to deploy cleaner fuels, including advanced batteries and fuel cell technologies, in every transportation mode.

Reducing Energy Bills for American Families and Businesses:
Reducing Barriers to Investment in Energy Efficiency:
Energy efficiency upgrades bring significant cost savings, but upfront costs act as a barrier to more widespread investment. In response, the Administration is committing to a number of new executive actions. As soon as this fall, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service will finalize a proposed update to its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program to provide up to $250 million for rural utilities to finance efficiency investments by businesses and homeowners across rural America. The Department is also streamlining its Rural Energy for America program to provide grants and loan guarantees directly to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.

Maintaining Agricultural Sustainability:
Building on the existing network of federal climatescience research and action centers, the Department of Agriculture is creating seven new Regional Climate Hubs to deliver tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners. These hubs will work with universities and other partners, including the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to support climate resilience. Its Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation are also providing grants and technical support to agricultural water users for more water-efficient practices in the face of drought and long-term climate change.

Strengthening Global Resilience to Climate Change:
Going forward, we will continue to:
● Strengthen government and local community planning and response capacities, such as by increasing water storage and water use efficiency to cope with the increased variability in water supply.
● Develop innovative financial risk management tools such as index insurance to help smallholder farmers and pastoralists manage risk associated with changing rainfall patterns and drought.
● Distribute drought-resistant seeds and promote management practices that increase farmers’ ability to cope with climate impacts.