TED Talk: How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change

This is one of the talks that came out of the most recent TED conference held February 25 – March 1, 2013 in Long Beach, California. The speaker, Allan Savory, is presented as grassland ecosystem pioneer and he has devoted most of his life studying grasslands all around the world and trying to work out the relationship between desertification and heavy grazing by herd herbivores. In his TED talk, Mr Savory presents a convincing case of how removal of grazing is likely to be the primary reason of degradation of many grassland ecosystems, and that reintroduction of heavy grazing is the solution to halt desertification. And it makes sense, relationship between grasses and large herbivores is a clear example of co-evolution, where both partners benefit more from each other than are harmed. So loss of one should negatively affect the other. I would question, however, Mr Savory’s statements about how saving and restoring world’s grasslands could mitigate all of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and stop climate change. Maybe it’s because of TED talks, the format often seem to require some grand statement and final solution. I think in this particular case the approach should be more holistic — grassland ecosystems are just part of the equation. Each and every part matters, and this talk provides great example of how study of ecology can provide feasible solutions to big problems.

What do you think? Can grasslands be saved with the help of cattle herds? Can reversing the desertification solve the climate crisis?

Featured image by James Duncan Davidson/TED


5 responses to “TED Talk: How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change

  1. There is a lack of awareness of history in many criticisms of Mr. Savory. Two hundred years ago there were enormous herds of buffalo across the american west. The herds were so big that they covered entire states. That is the normal ecosystem of the american west. Since then, the buffalo were nearly exterminated by people that wanted to take the land from the Indians that depended on them. They plowed up the grasslands and started farming. You can’t have huge mega-herds of buffalo running around and still have the huge agro-business farms operating, so the only thing you can do to even partially restore the grassland ecosystems is to do what Mr. Savory said – substitute cows for the buffalo. Better yet, let wolves prey on the herds of cattle – look up “how reintroducing wolves into yellowstone changed the course of rivers”.

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  2. As a restoration action we can put cattle (or other form of livestock or wild species as well) to recover grasslands where the wild forms of our cattle previously been abundant. This might work for regions as Pampas, Great plains, and the savannas of Africa. But still, desertification can occur when to much livestock is put at the same region and grasses are depleted. And as far as I understand it want be possible to turn sahara lush green by these means! So only in some places and at limited magnitude.

    About mitigation of carbon dioxide loads in the atmosphere, grassland will accumulate carbon as biomass as soon as they are stable and there are a sustainably low number of cattle on the ground – so there comes a lot of good things of this. But agreed, it is just one of many actions we need to take!


  3. Pingback: TWO THIRDS of our Earth are desertifying – but this Process can be Reversed! | Green Credit for Green Growth·

    • I would think it has to do with the fact that it is easier to “create” big herds of cattle and also in the regions he was talking about (with exception of the US) these cattle provide a food source for local people. But I agree, as an ecosystem restoration tool it should preferably employ native herbivore species.


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