Gene Logsdon and Friends

Another Shoe Drops In The Global Warming Debate

In Gene's Weekly Posts on April 10, 2013 at 6:33 am

From GENE LOGSDON

Despite the scolding some of you have given me, I still don’t think science has explained worldly global warming any better than religion has explained otherworldly hell. But the debate has taught me something. While scientists like to point out, correctly I think, that theologians are influenced more by ideology not facts, when I accuse them of falling into the same trap, they don’t like it one bit.

Allan Savory is a world-recognized expert and advocate of scientific pasture farming. Lots of you have heard him speak or read his writings, I’m sure. He has recently given a profoundly awesome speech (posted on Ukiah Blog and above). He admits in his talk that he once made a really terrible scientific mistake. (How often will you ever hear a theologian say that?) He lives and works mostly in Africa in the vast arid regions there that to an Ohioan look like desert. Quite a few years ago now, he and fellow scientific experts on desertification became convinced that overpopulations of wild animals were overgrazing these dry regions (rain falls four months and then eight months of no rain) causing the grasslands to deteriorate into barren desert. They made a decision to kill 40,000 elephants and did it. But instead of improving the grassland, desertification got worse. Once more the scientific faith in the infallibility of numbers was proven wrong.

For years, Savory has tried to find the right answer. He now thinks he has found it, and believe me, it will pickle your brain. I can’t believe that he is totally correct but his evidence is rather convincing. The way to turn deserts back into green grass and flowing rivers, he maintains, is to fill this land with cows, like it once was with wild animals. His research gives quite astounding evidence that the animals will graze the grasses that normally grow there, trample some, and spread their manure and urine heavily on a given area. The cows won’t eat where the manure is heavy and so move on to another area and repeat the process— natural rotational grazing. The grass, fertilized by all that manure, comes back quicker, and the soil surface stays covered with enough vegetation in the dry period to lessen erosion and more importantly, evaporation. More carbon is sequestered.

I have been leery of mob grazing, which is sort of what he is talking about on a very large scale, but I’ve had no experience with it. It seems to me that it would be better to restore the elephants, wildebeests, zebras etc., but managed cowherds might be a more economical and a quicker way to accomplish the same result.

He drops more than one shoe. He states that desertification may be a bigger cause of global warming that the increased burning of fossil fuels. He also hints that perhaps the climate itself isn’t changing significantly, but the earth itself is changing because of mishandling by humans.

The solution: more animals on pasture, less animals in those horrid confinement factory buildings.  I shouldn’t trivialize or make light of the problem by seeming to joke about it, but I can’t resist saying that if you want to save the world, eat local meat — as Dave Smith says on Ukiah Blog.
~~

  1. Cattle don’t seem to have helped the deserts of the southwest U.S.

    • ilse, because range management there has been, in a word, no management. Same situation Alan Savory found in Zimbabwe, and was able to begin correcting, eventually, by moving the herds where their impact could be beneficial. Cows dispersed on arid rangeland and left to their own eating desires, as they are in the Southwest, will destroy certain areas and not help others. Savory’s premise is that by mimicking the wandering, predator-driven grazing herds of wild ruminants, trampling effect and resultant carbon addition to soils that really need it, followed by REST, results in the most remarkable kickstart to forage species. To my knowledge, there are range management folks in Wyoming that are implementing Savory’s Wholistic Management concepts and have measurable results to prove it is working. Quivira Coalition and Savory Institute are worth checking out.

  2. I used to subscribe to “Range” magazine before I became so depressed by news of the steady assault on the cow and cowboy and those who try to live independently that I let my subscription lapse.
    The cow is hated in the same way that the internal combustion engines, christians, and white people are hated. They are on the wrong side of curve. The Times They are A Changin’ or what ever BS you picked up in college from that sophomore class in “everything your parents believed in 1975was a lie.”
    But, I digress…
    Cows have a bad rep in the USA because of a different type of over-grazing. If the cows eat the grass down and move on then it seems to be ok. The way I understand it is that the key is to keep rotations going. Those who learned from observation and reported it in Range Magazine said exactly what was said in your post. Once the cows were locked out completely then the undesirable weeds showed up, choked out the native grasses, and desertification started.
    I don’t really know. I’ve come to believe that the problem is somehow philosophical.
    Modern Science which gave us Global Warming came out of the ecology movement which mostly seems to be dedicated to proving their parents wrong.
    The modern small farm movement seems to be the same way. Prove the last generation wrong and then take what you want from “the old days,” and claim it as your own.
    Likewise, the other side seems mostly concerned refuting the new ideas and sticking with the old way and no one learns from each other.

    • Science with a mind of its own that came from the ecology movement? That’s a creationist theory, Budd! ;)

      I don’t think science has any agenda but seeking the truth (not unlike what theologists claim they do,) and they sure make mistakes on the way, having to constantly revise their theories as our understanding of the world and its physics progresses, but they admit to it, and anything that goes beyond “to our best knowledge and ability” is not science, but science-fiction.

      I don’t know that modern science is a bad thing that proves parents wrong either, it gave modern agriculture no-till and GMOs that have now become standard conventional agriculture. Not putting a judgement on those, just saying farmers have a choice and most made the choice to follow these techniques and technologies. Maybe the bigger issue I have with science is that everything comes from science these days, and it is sometimes hard to find one true self or other people’s true selves in this overpowering tsunami of technology, to find time and clean silent space to concentrate and think about the more important things. That’s why this blog and its comments are so important. I don’t really care about people’s opinions or my own as much as about the richness of such discussions. It’s a nice complement to those you can’t always have with friends and family.

      • Chimel, I am one of those schizophrenic folks who believe in everything and nothing all at the same time. Although some days I alternate. Today I am a nihilist. It is raining. If the sun is out tomorrow then I will believe in everything.
        I have a lot of problems when it is overcast.
        I think everyone has a bias. I think much of research is a reaction to something. For example does a scientist studying the effects of cattle grazing to prove desertification or to disprove it? I think very few do it from a totally open mind.
        I think people continually come up with arguments to sway thought to their side just to feel needed or to gain influence.
        My bias is that I want everyone to cynical. But only cynical in a way that agrees with me at this one moment in time.
        And I presently dislike people who are smarter and more successful than I. Unless they subscribe to my present world view.
        However, if someone tells me what I say is really funny and I have sarcastic wit then I forgive all disagreements.
        Of course I may completely change my mind tomorrow.
        -I suppose this is too much of an explanation to put at the bottom of every post I make. It would really explain a lot…

      • well said… I have to comment on the statement “it is sometimes hard to find one true self or other people’s true selves in this overpowering tsunami of technology”
        I would include marketing along with technology. We are marketed into making decisions on technology which result in that technology becoming a siphon, vaccum or conveyor of our money into the pockets of the companies that employ the super marketer’s.

        We are going to have to get off the grid to reverse the flow.

        jb

  3. Gene, though I find myself almost always in total agreement with your views, and have been a Contrarian from the womb, I have to say that at times I fear for you.

    You are bold.Though many of your otherwise loyal fans must be gritting their teeth and clenching their smiles, you have to be enjoying it with a twinkle in your eye. They are now getting up-close-and-personal with your true Contrariness.

    Carry on………

    • As a scientist, I posit that perhaps the greatest failing of the scientific community at large is our general ineptitude at communicating scientific knowledge to the public. Here’s a prime example of this. The widely accepted conclusion within the scientific community is NOT that fossil fuel combustion is the sole cause of global warming. Read that last sentence again. Fossil fuel combustion is a significant factor, however. We can quantify quite accurately (though there is always a margin of uncertainty) the extent to which humans are adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere via the burning of fossil fuels.

      Importantly, though, humans are also destroying the carbon “sink” into which carbon from the atmosphere can be reassimilated into ecosystems. We do this by destroying rainforests, poisoning aquatic ecosystems, and by mismanaging agricultural lands (as you so frequently point out). So, it is quite appropriate to suggest human-induced desertification contributes to increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases. To conclude, though, that the negative effects of fossil fuel combustion are unimportant, immeasurable, or otherwise unknowable is folly, however. This is not a matter of “ideology;” it is a matter of fact, evidence, and reason.

      Suppose someone were to belittle your conclusion that the current factory model of grain production is environmentally unsustainable and economically untenable as mere “ideology” or based upon some “faith” in contrariness. My guess is that this would ruffle your feathers a bit, since you have facts to back up this particular conclusion. Well, that’s how we scientists feel when scientific consensus based upon evidence and reason is misinterpreted and misrepresented.

      • “perhaps the greatest failing of the scientific community at large is our general ineptitude at communicating scientific knowledge to the public”…

        am glad you said perhaps, because there is another failing that is equally vexing to the public: when a scientist comes up with an idea, then bends experiments in an attempt to reinforce the preconceived notion. It’s an all-too-human failing. Investors do the same thing: they fall in love with a stock and stick with it long after its value starts to plummet.

        Anchoring, I think the psychologists call it.

  4. I watched Savory’s TED talk some time ago, it was humbling to see such a man admit to his costly mistake. I am sure there must be a few scientists out there with a passion for their studies, but all the scientific reports I ever read on climate change were thoroughly based on facts, not faith. And, sorry to say, rather dull and obscure to the non-climatologist me.

    See for instance the recent paper on the Holocene, the current 11-12,000 years warm period since the last glacial age, which gave rise to humanity and agriculture and in which we still live: The scientists gathered and published the data for the whole Holocene, being careful to mention that the records they used could only provide a “resolution” (precision) between 120 and 300 years, yet skeptics sites chose to highlight the past hundred years or even the past decade, just because the paper showed the same hockey stick as modern climate change studies for that period. Or they chose to denounce the paper because it recomputed the age of well known records, to make the data fit with their “climate change ideology.” So the scientists had to publish a FAQ to explain to these ideology-based skeptics that carbon dating cannot be used for anything earlier than the 1950s because of atomic experiments that changed the composition of carbon 14 in the air, that it isn’t very reliable even for about a century before that and should be confirmed by other dating methods, that carbon-dating science has evolved a lot recently, so all the previous records need to be recalibrated using a standard approved method, and so on.

    Well, when I say I read these papers, I should rather say that I read the reports that more qualified scientific journalists make on them, such as this one:

    http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/04/climate-science-once-again-finds-itself-fighting-with-hockey-sticks/

  5. “The cows won’t eat where the manure is heavy and so move on to another area and repeat the process— natural rotational grazing.”

    That isn’t at all what I take away from Savoy.

    What’s wrong with that picture is the absence of top predators. Without that sort of management, ruminants will range widely, eating only their favourites and leaving the “weeds.”

    Savoy like mob grazing and intense rotation, mimicking the behaviour wild ruminants would have if they were “herded” by top predators.

    It seems we have two choices: fast, intense rotation, or bring back the wolf.

    • Jan, you are right. Manure-avoidance has nothing to do with what Savory (and the mob-grazing crowd) have hit upon. It is all about moving the herds, and the predators used to do that, so on our limited acreages, we must be the predator. My electric fenced paddock cells are my way of being the wolf with my cattle. The brilliance of keeping them close together and grazing intensely, as a herd would if it were constantly being threatened by a hungry pack of predators, is that the vegetation gets eaten thoroughly, the stuff that isn’t gets stomped into the soil where the soil creatures can start feasting on it (as opposed to dead grass left standing, which just slowly oxidizes and contributes nothing to the soil humus level), and the manure and urine are concentrated, and trampled as well. I think it is brilliant.

  6. Actually what we or any animals do here on earth may have no or little effect on climate anyway.Just a slight tilt of the Sun or Solar Flares from the Sun can can have all sorts of major effects on the Earth’s climate.The Sun already warms the Earth an average
    of 20 degrees or more every day here in my area and without the Sun the Earth would be in a very deep freeze forever.Strange we hear very little from scientists and promoters of Global Warming theories about the #1 “Global Warmer” the Sun.Can’t tax the Sun is the most obvious answer.At least that fellow admitted his mistake I’m still waiting for the fellow from the Gov’t that brought us Multiflora Rose and wanted us to drain all our swamps (Wetlands) back in the 60’s to admit they were wrong headed.

  7. Desertification, overpaving and over-building profoundly affects the climate (the heat island effect is increasingly palpable) and has other ancillary effects (drainage, water pollution, flooding, etc.). I work in a city that once had many more trees and much less paving (houses had yards, now they are often paved for parking; “suburban”-style commercial development has resulted in large impermeable surfaces – natural systems are drastically compromised). The same goes in rural areas where agribusiness has taken over. Regardless of what you call it, “we” have done a great deal to compromise the functions of the natural machine, irrespective of emissions, etc. Reversing this must start with a general respect for nature rather than trendy gobbledygook.

  8. Good points, all: it takes a whole system, with predators, herbivores and an overall balance to make things work right. Wonder if I could find a way to get the predators to move my critters from one paddock to another every day….
    By the way, Budd, you sound like a perfectly normal human being to me!

  9. As I read this I’m enjoying hamburger from one of two Holstein steer I rescued from a feedlot for $10.00 each which weighed about #275 when I bought them They were sick with pinkeye and runny noses from dust and ammonia fumes and coated with manure. I treated them and fed them on rotationally grazed pasture and hay which I had previously cut from that pasture. In winter they were bedded with straw and wood chips. It took a lot of carbon rich bedding to soak up all that urine and manure. I learned how to do this partially from experience , but mostly from Gene’s books.

    Part of the pasture was where I also fed some of the hay in Fall and Winter until the ground was well manured. Chickens scratching for treasures in the manure ensured it was well distributed. Then the next spring after the pasture grass grew a bit I tilled up that bit of pastured land fenced it off and planted garden. As much as a year later I applied some of the manure pack as compost/mulch in the same pasture rotated to garden spot. I tried to keep track of yields but there was just too much good stuff. I lost track after nine perfect ears from one seed of sweet corn.

    In the second fall when the steers were 18-24 months of age I butchered the steers humanely when they were around 1000-1200# body weight. The bones went to make delicious broth which I froze for later use in soups and I saved one hide for leather. The innards and scraps went for feeding the dogs, cats and poultry, so nothing was wasted. I’m willing to bet that erosion was close to zero from the pastures and carbon sequestration was very high.I suspect true beef breed steers would perform even better.

    The only fuel consumed was: 1) to haul the calves home in my pickup from the place where I bought them, 2) a relatively small amount of fuel for running the garden tiller and, 3) another small amount of fuel to run the tractor and baler and my pickup for what amount of hay and straw I purchased. Eventually I hope to be self -sufficient for forage and bedding so even that amount of fuel will diminish. Electricity for the freezer is generated by hydropower and wind so essentially no fuel is consumed to keep the meat frozen.

    I had one slaughtered carcass weighed on official scales at 640#, so for comparison sakes let’s say 1280 pounds (#)of carcass beef total counting meat and bones without organ meats, head and delicious tongue, then subtract 600 # for total original live weight = 680# of very digestible beef and broth from bones.Note that the residual bones are fed to the dogs and what they don’t eat I smash with a maul for the chickens who devour it greedily or else pyrolyzed for biochar. As I said there is no waste, and a lot of people and animals are fed thereby

    The alfalfa hay I purchased was part of a rotation where after several years of alfalfa , the alfalfa is killed and winter wheat planted. The alfalfa provides Nitrogen for the wheat thereby lessening inputs of synthetic fertilizer to produce human food. So in essence there was/is no competition between human and animal food production in this beef production scenario as vegans often allege.

    Vegetarians claim we should eat grain and soybeans to save the earth but my few attempts at growing grain and soybeans indicate to me it’s a lot of work to produce significant amounts of human food compared to rotating grazing animals on pasture. Furthermore without the input of the animals into the grain and soybean production process; for example: from manure and animal consumption of plant roughage not consumable by humans to help in the production of the grains and soybeans I don’ know how such grains and soybean can be produced sustainably.

    Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying we shouldn’t produce grains and soybeans, I’m just saying we need to incorporate animals such as cows into the production process.and leave a lot more ground in pasture and hay land and reincorporate rotations with pasture followed cropping back into agriculture in order to be truly sustainable. Even the crops can be grazed at times such as grazing young wheat to promote tillering and minimize losses to lodging.

    I can understand vegetarians objecting to Confined Animal Feeding Operations, I’m no fan of those myself. I just hope the example I just gave helps provides epiphanies to vegans so they re-think their: ” eat tofu to save the earth” mantra.

    Thanks again Gene for your many years of :”Contrary Inspiration”.

  10. In a lecture at a managed intensive grazing workshop I heard the words “most of the farms are understocked and overgrazed” overgrazing being a product of time and not stocking rate.
    Also some very interesting things happen when mob grazing. The cattle competitively graze trying to beat the other cow to the best grass. But while trying to get the best bite before the other cow they also get any weed shrub or vine in the way. It is truly an awesome sight.
    My favorite part of farming is moving the mob, and than watching the previous pasture recover.

  11. I wonder if the current Soil and Conservation and Fish and Wildlife fixation with brining back “top predators” is just another buzz word. The tree huggers just love the idea of a “wild” nature with wolves and cougars and then they get to imagine they are the first white guy to step foot in the wilderness and who knows they might see the green man or Gia or what ever they currently pretend to believe in.
    Folks just love to play “God.” And the next guy always knows he (or she-not to be sexist) is smarter than the first.

    • Are not the corporations bent on finding the most efficient method to raze every forest, poison every river, and burn every drop of oil the real ones “playing god” around here? I’ve never understood the eagerness by some people to demonize a few well-intentioned tree huggers for trying to preserve anything from the natural world. Corporations have given us the Union Carbide disaster, Deepwater Horizon, and reality TV. By comparison, the few wolves reintroduced by conservationists seem positively tame.

  12. It was the same here in the US before we destroyed the American Bison the plains were able to support millions of animals. The real problem is that large herds need to roam huge areas that cross to many landowners. So we run cattle on too small an area and destroy the environment.

  13. Truth unquestioned is false. That will always be. “The slow one now will later be fast” is what Bob Dylan stole from the Bible. Us heathens condensed that down to “shit happens”, or the law of unintended consequences.

    I am an unabashed tree hugger, but I’ve gotten fond of being alone at the top of the food chain, and I understand the consequences of no wolves and cougars is I have to live trap raccoons and dodge deer on the highways. Sounds as if you might have gotten hold of some of the brown acid in the 60s, Budd. Sad thing is, we are sacrificing our woods and meadows and fens so we can grow subsidized crops, which means I may have to move to Canada to hug a tree. A new critter has evolved here called a track hoe: they’re huge, and they devour tree lines and fence rows, any place a deer or pheasant could hide. No need for a wolf anymore. No one is playing God; the new God is cash. Where I live, the ODNR reintroduced beavers, of all things. Now THERE’S a brain fart!

  14. “Nature is complex.” Every time we destroy part of it and then try to “fix” it, we relearn this simple truth.

  15. Roof, so essentially you agree with me, aside from some differences in theology and semantics? I dislike the over-use of the trackhoe, am annoyed by beavers, and am content with being a top predator, unless you count the new neighborhood farmer with the deep pockets and the trackhoe.
    I apologize for using the term tree-hugger in a demeaning way.
    However, playing God means what it always has. Cash and influence and self importance. Why do you think ODNR gave you beavers? Got tired of waiting for them to swim upstream so they gave em a boost.
    Cause they know more than you, or they just went to a seminar on stream restoration.

  16. I think this misses the mark a bit, because if you look at Permaculture, and restoring deserts, you need several components. Swails (curves), adding something to the soil to keep the moisture in, etc. There’s some good youtube videos with Bill Mollison.

    I am shocked at how many elephants they slaughtered, breaks my heart. What a waste…

  17. Budd, I tend to agree, but I’m also conflicted. I’m not certain why they reintroduced beaver, maybe someone high on the totem pole thought it was a good idea. It wasn’t. However, the same people also reintroduced wild turkeys, and for me that was a true blessing. I live by one of the best fishing lakes in Ohio (average 2 roadkill beavers at the spillway/year), with over 100 acres of woods, all owned by the state of Ohio, which is more than enough to support a large flock of turkeys (rafter, to be technical). They sometimes roost near my house, in some of the trees I hug. In December, turkeys come into my valley because there’s always a small amount of shelled corn in the morning; they don’t associate the corn with me, but to the valley. Last week the turkeys quit coming into the valley, apparently they have enough breakfast in the woods. I hardly see them from April through December. Towards the middle of March, though, they are mating, and I get to watch the dancing from my house (it’s a big, comfortable blind). Fifteen years ago I got new neighbors, and the guy was in his early thirties, and a hunter, so I explained to him how lucky he was. He said he’d never seen a tom turkey display. One morning I called him on the phone and told him to look over my house at the top of the hill. He told me he saw the turkeys, and then a tom displayed. Andy just said “Wow!” I said “Have a good day, Andy.”, and hung up. Maybe I’m the corn deity, so I’ll cop a plea. On the positive side, I’ve called the ODNR and told them I had an eyeball on a beaver, and asked if they wanted it killed, and was denied my 00 credentials. Two months ago the beaver built a dam on the creek that flows into the lake, backing water up a foot and a half high into the wetland fen to the east, submerging the hiking trail. ODNR would not tear up the dam! I’d like to find out where that guy is on the totem pole! It’s like the beaver are in a witness protection program. I could feature a selective wolf or cougar if they only went after beaver or that clown on the totem pole. I told you I was conflicted. I think we’re on the same page, though, Budd. Peace.

  18. There are some really important language distinctions lacking in this conversation. First is the difference between what most folks in the US think of when they talk about science, and that is the old Newtonian/Cartesian model that we now recognize as mechanistic reductionism. This it the view of the universe as a machine and to do science in this way requires isolating elements and parameters and testing the parts to see what makes things tick. Unfortunately, mechanistic reductionism is useful and not sufficient, because the real world consists of incredibly complex systems interacting in ways that are decidedly non-linear.

    Governments and old style scientists like mechanistic reductionism because it appears to give some measure of predictability and thus control. But if you look at the real world, every time anyone tries to control anything it rapidly spirals out of control and into all kinds of unintended consequences. American scientists and institutions are still stuck in mechanistic reductionism while all the rest of the world has moved into a whole new way of scientific thinking that really is far more appropriate and congruent with the real world.

    The new kinds of science are the systems sciences, and those deal with non-linearity, with chaos, complexity and the ever-present and completely unpredictable (and thus uncontrollable) mystery of emergence. To give you an example, hemoglobin and chlorophyll are exactly the same molecule with one atom of difference. Hemoglobin has an iron atom at the center and chlorophyll has a magnesium atom. Nothing in their chemistry or in any of the science we know could predict the emergence of red from hemoglobin or green from chlorophyll. Red and green are emergent properties inherent to their chemistry and unpredictable by us. So also does a sense of self arise as an emergent property from the complexity of animal brains, including our own. This reality is evident all through the animal kingdom.

    So is it with all systems sciences. Again, mechanistic reductionism is useful and not sufficient. You can dissect a mouse and find all the parts that go into making a mouse except for one, and that is the ways those parts interact as a living and dynamic system to generate the emergent property of mouseness. The world is comprised of vastly complex, interacting systems chock-full of unpredictible emergent properties. We need to tread carefully in all things in this regard. Kill off the wolf and the beaver and raccoon populations go crazy. Everything is connected and we are not separate from these consequences.

    Second distinction needed here is the difference between human-caused mismanagement of land that creates highly-degraded dead landscapes where nothing will grow or live, versus those alive and vitally dynamic systems called deserts, where every plant, bug and critter is well adapted for that landscape and biome, and has been from time immemorial. These are not the same thing. Deserts are doing quite well on their own and at the same time they are incredibly fragile because they take so long to evolve and adapt.

    When we talk about desertification, we need to recognize those two very different conditions. Some parts of the planet are desertifying because the climate is shifting to a hot state, altering rainfall patterns and shifting temperature ranges. This is a natural shift that has gone on longer than our species has been around, and there are countless species waiting to take advantage of those changes. The other side concerns those areas we humans have screwed up so badly that nothing lives there and the landscape is dry and dead, and not even desert-adapted species can survive. These enormous areas of impact are indeed contributing to global warming but they are also areas we can do something about. Here is one terrific example from China, and another in Africa.

    Prof John Liu – Hope in a Changing Climate

    Regarding Allan Savory… I never heard of him until I posted that very video on my Facebook page about a month ago. And boy did that generate a firestorm of resistance, accusation, argument and other sordid responses. It turns out that Savory is actually quite controversial among many scientists from multiple disciplines, with many reputable folks claiming he’s a self-promoting snake-oil salesman. I don’t actually know, as I haven’t the training to recognize the distinctions that would either discredit his claims or confirm them. Nor do I have any idea if they would work in the breadbasket of the US using cows. Although to be fair, the Great Plains did support somewhere between 30 and 60 million bison once upon a time. (lots of folks argue those numbers up and down, but again, I’ve no idea which is true)

    What I do know is that I worked with clients in sub-Saharan Africa who manage about 600,000 acres of what used to be dead, dry, over-farmed, over-irrigated and toxic land that now is fully re-greened and supports tons of animals and thousands of people. And they did exactly what Savory is talking about. So I know that in some instances this works very well. An important point tho, is that the folks I know did not use cows, but used sheep, goats and a variety of birds. There are now year-round rivers on that land where once there was nothing but bare ground and dust.

    And this also reminds me of what Joel Salatin did with Polyface Farms. He bought 600 some odd acres of the worst, over-farmed, eroded and dead land in the Shenandoah Valley and within 30 years turned it into one of the richest, most productive small farms in the US. If I recall, first thing he did in the beginning was to dig a half-dozen ponds and start figuring out how to retain water in the soil. Most of the rest of what he did was to use animals in soil-building. You build soil and hold water in it and everything else follows. Now he uses intensive grazing, moving his tightly-bunched animals so they spend no more than one day on any particular quarter acre. Then four days later he brings in his chickens and lets them spread the manure and eat the bugs, parasites, eggs, larvae and all.

    Pretty remarkable and lots of farmers have been paying attention.

    Regarding our fight against desertification, here are Geoff Lawton’s Nine Steps to reclaiming the desert, based upon his permaculture principles, and at the end there is a link to the video of how and where that worked:

    1)   Create swales (trenches) on contour – this will catch water to bring into the soil during wet seasons.

    2)   Place mulch on the rises of the swales – use organic matter, which can be considered trash from other farms at a depth of approximately 1 ½ feet.

    3)   Place irrigation below the mulch.

    4)   On the uphill side of the swale plant hardy nitrogen fixing trees – this helps to shade, helps to reduce evaporative loss and helps to create a soil structure.

    5)    On the lower side of the swale plant a stair-stepped layer of fruiting plants. The varieties chosen will depend upon what is available in your local areas.

    6)   Plant more nitrogen fixing plants than fruit producing.

    7)   Cover the inside of the swale with mulch.

    8)   Entice or keep birds, and actively manage any livestock. Pigeons were used in Geoff Lawton’s work as an important component of the system from their high nitrogen-producing poop; roaming livestock needed to be managed since in this part of the world livestock roams free.

    9)   Use yourself as example to illustrate that traditional burning increases productivity rather than decreasing it, even in the face of skepticism and laughter, as changing this cultural pattern will stop the release of carbon into the atmosphere, using it instead to build soil.

    The basics of what you need to know are that these simple steps, with dedication for a minimum of three years, preferably more, can create a food-producing habitat that is self-sustaining and rejuvenating even in one of the most difficult circumstances on earth.

    Here is the video of how and where he did that – Jordan, 15 inches of rain per year, temps as high as 120 in the summer, completely dead and salted soil…

    • Where are you getting your information about Joel Salatin’s farm?He’s pretty close to me and as far as I know it was his family’s farm and its located on some of the most naturally fertile Limestone land on the east coast.Not to say he hasn’t improved the place for sure but the Shenandoah Valley has many more minerals in the soil than say where I’m located east of the Blue Ridge where we have to add about everthing.Plus when one is adding organic matter and minerals from somewhere else fertility isn’t being created just transferred from one place to another.Not necesasarily a bad thing but thats what it is.

  19. Sorry, there is a typo in Lawton’s point 9, burning DECREASES productivity instead of increasing it. Instead of burning the organic matter left over from crops, use it as mulch.

  20. Gene, RIGHT ON BRO!!! Keep on truckin! Loved your video on “Why we don’t like Giant Ragweed” — Think I’m grow my house with Giant Ragweed, do you know anything more about this? Bought your book. Keep up the good work.
    Michael

    • Michael, I appreciate your interest and support. You mention a video about ragweed that I don’t think I am aware of. Do you mean post rather than video? I’m not sure how to answer your question. Gene

  21. To Gary Burnett, I heard him at a talk some years ago and the way he described the farm when he got it was that it was soil-dead, parched, over-farmed and heavily salted from irrigation and chemical fertilizers, just not productive or healthy at all. I suppose I could have misunderstood but I was under the impression that it was a real mess. Maybe it was his family farm and he inherited but I don’t recall anything about that. If you know him and have a chance to ask I’d appreciate an update. I hate to misquote or get the facts wrong. Thanks for checking in. Regards, Carmine.

  22. Gene, I recently came across this talk via TED. Thank you for posting it!!

  23. Gene Logsdon wrote “I still don’t think science has explained worldly global warming any better than religion has explained otherworldly hell. ”

    You are plain wrong about this Gene.

    It boils down to fact versus belief system. For instance, one doesn’t believe in gravity. Its a fact, and one that one hopes not to witness falling off a tall ladder or roof. Likewise, climate change is a fact and its happening now. It is hard to debate away the easily understood and easily observed facts that atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased, the polar sea ice is disappearing, the permafrost is melting and glaciers are retreating. And the sea level is rising.

    The Department of Defense, the insurance companies and a number of low lying nations have accepted global warming as fact. Its hard to understand why some can’t. Unless they happen to be feeding off of the moneyed pockets of the energy companies who are blinded by short term profits and otherwise couldn’t care less. Acceptance of the fact is not the same as believing in something. Its weighing the evidence and confirming its presence. Non-scientists have a hard time understanding scientific understanding of fact versus belief. This gets worse when they get all of their news from the blathering idiots on FOX and such.

    Something like 95% of the scientists working on climate change have accepted this fact. Its not surprising that the 5% who say it isn’t happening are all working for the oil companies, or are hired by the same PR firms that helped the cigarette companies market their product as safe.

    So for a simplified explanation of what is going on:

    Burning fossil fuels increases the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This allows the atmosphere to absorb more heat from the sun. This heat is causing the ice to melt. The ice melting will raise the sea level and flood coastal communities. It might affect weather patterns and climate. The loss of low lying land and a changing climate may drastically impact our agriculture and will cause social unrest.

    There, I explained it.

    • Casey, I do not deny global warming or climate change. I am only suggesting that science does not know enough about its causes or its repercussions to be so pompously self-righteous about its present deductions—- just like religion. Gene

  24. Good read, Gene. I sometimes wonder if maybe something like desertification is supposed to happen. Who are we to stop it right? I think humans play some part in climate change, but isn’t the climate always and has always been changing. As farmers we get to see first hand how fast nature can take over. If I have a spot in a corn field drown out in summer it will be populated with a blanket of weeds by fall. This planet is too big and too complicated for us to know it all. If the earth tires of us, it will probably find a way to get rid of us I think.

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