Just add cows to combat desertification ? (Google / MDP Berkeley)

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Asa Feinstein – To Combat Desertification: Just Add Cows?

I figure that if two people send me a link to the same TED talk within the same week, it might be worth a look.  By following this logic I became one of the 1,252,412 (and counting) viewers of Allan Savory’s talk on “How to Green the World’s Deserts and Reverse Climate Change”.  According to Savory, the widely accepted scientific understanding that overgrazing is a major cause of desertification is as wrong as believing that the earth being flat.  In fact, Savory claims that the only option we have for combating desertification throughout the world is to increase grazing intensity.  On the TED website, Savory’s talk appears on a playlist titled “Everything You Thought…Was Wrong”.  Unfortunately, given the lack of scientific validation of Savory’s hypothesis, there is little to suggest that the “You” in the playlist title should refer to the general public rather than Savory himself.

Mr. Savory grew up in Zimbabwe, loving wildlife and hating livestock for the destruction they caused.  He explains how he came to change his view on livestock through a passionate account of what he calls the biggest mistake of his life.  Early in his career as an ecologist, Savory was confronted with desertification in regions of Zimbabwe where pastoralists and their livestock had been removed to make way for national parks.  Savory attributed this to overgrazing by an excessive elephant population.  Based on his recommendations, 40,000 elephants were exterminated, yet desertification only got worse (in a talk made one month earlier at Tufts University, Savory claims responsibility for half as many elephant deaths).  Savory later moved to the United States where he observed desertification on plots of land where livestock had been removed for decades.  While the scientific consensus attributed this to natural processes, Savory began to hypothesize that desertification in the US and Africa, and throughout the world was occurring due to a lack of grazing.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.