TED Conversations

Linda Hesthag  Ellwein

Communications, Change, and Photography, Oikonomia, Inc.

TEDCRED 50+

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How attached are you to your deeply held beliefs? If solutions to global problems challenge your worldview, how do you react?

Allan Savory's recent TED Talk introduced an unlikely and politically incorrect solution to reversing global desertification and climate change with the use of livestock as a tool, and different decision making.

Well-meaning laws, bureaucracies, and activists at the mercy of public opinion have stifled this work from moving forward on a large scale in the US. Belief systems and the fear of being wrong often prohibits change.

How do you respond to ideas that challenge your belief system? How do we stop our paradigms and prejudices from unfairly shaping decision making, and allowing us to take real risks for lasting change? What's your reaction to cows helping save the world? What idea have you believed and been completely wrong?

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    Mar 7 2013: That's one of the most powerful, persuasive talks I've seen.

    I've always thought that keeping cattle on an industrial scale was bad for the environment for many reasons - but after listening to Allan Savory, I'm seriously reconsidering that view. It just seems so plausible.

    I'd like to think that my own belief systems are flexible enough to change in the face of persuasive information, but sometimes it gets stuck when pride and possession dominate reasoned thought. I have a very sensitive bullshit filter that snaps into action at the slightest hint of ulterior motive, or any belief system that effectively shuts down logic and creativity.

    That filter didn't even budge during Mr Savory's talk.
    • Mar 7 2013: i would definitely say be careful about using the term "industrial" with regard to what he is talking about here. the industrial model puts large numbers of animals on land and DOESN'T rotate them at all, and in fact this is quite bad practice and creates all manner of problems for the environment and human/animal health. the ROTATIONAL GRAZING is a key concept here. CHEERS!
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        Mar 8 2013: Erica, you are absolutely right. I meant to make that distinction between keeping livestock in industrial conditions, as opposed to conditions that reflect the natural behaviour of ruminants.

        Thanks for pointing that out.
      • Mar 9 2013: Erica,
        In so far as I know, Allan Savory has never recommended "rotational grazing" or any other grazing system. Using Holistic Planned Grazing, The presence and movement of animals is planned and adjusted considering a variety of factors including geographical place, needs of wildlife, needs of domestic herbivores, growth rate of plants, recovery of plants and their roots, soil conditions, culture, the weather, family values, unexpected events, etc.

        "Plan" to those who manage holistically is a 24 letter word:PlanMonitorControlReplan. Natural wholes change continually. We "manage" in an environment of ever-changing relationships among processes. We respond to changes we observe in reality as we move toward the desired results.

        Holistic Management is grounded in 4 key insights:
        "1. A holistic perspective is essential in management. If we base management decisions on any other perspective we are likely to experience results different from those intended because only the whole is reality.
        2. Environments may be classified on a continuum from nonbrittle to very brittle according to how well humidity is distributed throughout the year and how quickly dead vegetation breaks down. At either end of the scale, environments respond differently to the same influences. Resting restores land in nonbrittle environments, for instance, but damages it in very brittle environments.
        3. In brittle environments. relatively high numbers of large , herding animals, concentrated and moving as they naturally do in the presence of pack-hunting predators, are vital to maintaining the health of the lands we thought they destroyed.
        4. In any environment, overgrazing and damage from trampling bear little relationship to the number of animals, but rather to the amount of time plants and soils are exposed to the animals."
        "Holistic Management, A New Framework for Decision Making", Savory and Butterfield, 1999, page 16.
        Allan has devised a different way of making decisions.
        • Mar 9 2013: My practice of holistic management on my ranch for 17 years, has shown me the critical importance of your comment about planning. This is the area that many people trained in holistic management have the biggest problem,including myself, because we don't understand the complexity of the environments we are dealing with. I include social and economic environments in the ecosystem. Watching for deviations and responding with agility is the key!
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          Mar 12 2013: Well said, Tom. Thanks.
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      Mar 13 2013: Allan - that's what happened to me 20 years ago when I first learned of Savory's work. The filter not only didn't budge, but something resonated very deeply. It simultaneously confused me because it was far outside my urban and idealistic paradigm. Over the years, as I've practiced and continued to let it unfold, my experience tells me it is a sound and effective solution to some of the challenges we face. It is generally human behavior, the unintended entropy of organizations or bureaucracy, and inflexible world views that prevent us from finding out if it is a real answer....
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    Mar 6 2013: I have always questioned my own beliefs, and really don’t understand why many people don’t.
    How can a belief become a deeply held belief until you question every aspect of it?

    I also question authority figures, doctors, teachers, police/lawyers/judges, scientist, church leaders, and that may be the reason I feel I need to question my own thinking.
    And I wonder if those who don’t question their own beliefs also don’t question authority figures.
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    Mar 5 2013: How do we change someone's mind?

    We see this all the time in public policy. What started as a perfectly reasonable (and laudable) response to a problem becomes a vested interest for someone (especially if that vested interest is pride and reputation).

    How to break that cycle? Certainly Kathryn Schulz's excellent talk is part of it.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/kathryn_schulz_on_being_wrong.html

    The "debate" over Climate Change proves that Science and the evidence of our Senses are not enough.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/earth-from-space.html
    www.chasingice.com

    How do we change mens' minds? For me the answer is simple, the theatre- specifically the Greek Theatre of ideas. Shakespeare does a fair job of it as well- because of his ambiguity and ability to voice many views with equal emphasis and fairness. Now, the problem becomes how do we use modern tools like social media with ancient methods like oratory to get people to knock away some of that old crusty thinking and look at each topic from a new viewpoint? How do we make an atmosphere safe enough for contemplation and discourse? Hmmmmm.... I wonder......


    To the second part of your question. I loved Allan Savory's talk. My only frustration is the stovepiping of information and effort which I find in both the permaculture community and the public bureaucracies.
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    Mar 5 2013: You just ignore the lack of foresight in others and follow the advice of Eleanor Roosevelt:

    You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
    You must do the thing which you think you cannot do. - Eleanor Roosevelt
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    Mar 13 2013: I like to challenge my beliefs. I like unconventional ideas and using things that are not commonly used like Linux and fountain pens.

    The history of my worldview is not so common in the U.S. I grew up in Soviet Ukraine. At school I believed that I'm very lucky to be born in the greatest country on Earth - the Soviet Union. A mere look at the world map was enough to see how great it was. Not only it was huge, but my country was also leading the world to the better future for humanity - without exploitation, free of economic ups and downs of capitalist economies and free from the "vices of the rotten West". I believed that my country stood for peace in the world, against imperialism and neo-colonialism who sought to destroy the countries of working-class people. I was "free from religion" (opium for the people) and "armed" with Marxism-Leninism as the "most progressive ideology in the world".

    We know what happened later. The "iron curtain" fell. The Berlin wall fell. The "rotten West" turned out to smell pretty good and it turned out that Marxism-Leninism had been used to kill and repress millions of people.

    Lessons? Never be sure that my views are right or the best.

    Later in my life I became interested in religion. I wondered, how this "opium for the people" works. I wondered, how people believe logical paradoxes and obvious absurdities that contradict physical facts. It was an interesting experience. I think, I know now why people have irrational beliefs. I learned to recognize them and appreciate them. I deliberately participated in atheist forums, not proselytizing, but advocating for religion and challenging atheist beliefs while challenging mine. It was, again, a transforming experience. I was exposed to facts that religion which seems to preach love and forgiveness was used for centuries to justify ruthless genocide, inquisition, and atrocities. I did a lot of reading and processing these facts. Lessons? See above...
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      Mar 13 2013: I can well appreciate your experiences. I too came from an isolated community surprisingly located in the USA. But we were a small town and our relative universe extended 20 miles in any direction. Motion pictures were our view of the world. News reels showed views of a raging world war.. . Buck Rogers defends earth from the villains in space. I found books that described wonders that sparked my imagination but were only words on paper. My "wall" fell when I was drafted into the Army and then off to war and differing parts of the world. As you found there is a whole world out there that I had no idea of what it was all about. Yet, for all the differences there were more similarities.
      You mention you exploration of religion and how it was subverted by many atrocities. In my travels, I witnessed a number of what were found to be noble causes that were corrupted by greed and destroyed by vandals. I have no idea what is in the mind of man that so many would destroy a thing of beauty or a noble idea for no other reason then to destroy it. I think it is that flaw in human nature that will really be the cause of our species extinction.
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        Mar 13 2013: I still think, religion is a great thing. I think, science is a great thing too. Communism has many great ideas. It's thinking that either is the greatest thing in the world that is causing the damage. With this in mind, the idea that the only greatest thing is God and he alone is worth of worship, considering that God does not physically exist, but is, perhaps, the most abstract of ideas we may have, makes sense to me.
    • Mar 14 2013: Arkady, thank you for those thoughts. You are an inspiration for people like me who strive to be open-minded.
    • Mar 18 2013: Well said!
  • Mar 9 2013: Humans are feeling beings first, then thinking beings. This has been hard for me to accept, but the recent wide rejection of the scientific consensus on global warming and the role of our policies and habits has made me a believer. People rationalize facts into their comfortable belief systems. The most appalling perhaps is “God made us do it so the end of times can arrive”.

    On ecosystems science and “management”: these are complex systems just as are our living bodies, and our societies and organizations. The best interventions I have seen in my work are present in Savoy’s work: respect for and effort to understand existing system dynamics, agile strategies for influence, flexible and participative decision methods, and respect for feedback. Hard science only plays a role in the “understanding” bit, and the initial design of strategies, and suggestions for response to feedback. The rest is a wild and wooly ride. You know your systems “lives” when you audit it for results, and this is proof enough. Look at quality management, rejected in this country until so many success stories caused almost all big companies to adopt the system of management that was working.

    Population growth goes down with improved lives, and green land growing good food can do that. Sign me up.
  • Mar 9 2013: I believe in the truth,and meanwhile I need to be aware of what is the conception of the truth.I think I will go on moving around the zigzag of seeking the belief:truth.It won't stop until I die
  • Mar 13 2013: I thought Savory's talk was absolutely brilliant. His methods certainly seem to work according to the science he's done. I haven't checked up on all the particulars, I'm no environmental scientist by any means, but his before and after pictures were extremely convincing. It makes sense too. Following nature would seem to make an ecosystem thrive more. Disrupting the natural flow will disrupt the ecosystem. Sounds good.

    I don't think people should have a belief system where science is concerned. The facts are the facts. Trying to change them by belief systems is not only illogical but potentially harmful. I always respect the scientists that come out and say they don't know when the facts aren't clear instead of jumping to conclusions that support their beliefs. As for the places where science can't bring us facts, we're free to believe whatever we want. Whether or not those beliefs are true will have to be confirmed by another method.
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      Mar 14 2013: Without a belief system, science would lose direction. Don't you think? Science can tell you how to get where you want, but it won't tell you where you want to get. Where you want to get is determined by belief system.

      Here is a great essay by Leo Tolstoy where he argues this point. The essay is about his understanding or religion. I would interpret "religion" in this essay in a wider sense, as a "system of beliefs". I love the style of this essay. I believe, it's brilliantly written even though some points are arguable.

      http://tinyurl.com/cjkrxj6

      All scientists are interested in some outcome of their research. That's normal. But that must not lead to "confirmation bias" - "counting the hits and ignoring the misses". People commonly fall into this trap. No amount of supporting evidence can confirm a rule or theory, but a single contradiction destroys it. A single contradiction indicates that a theory is either false or needs to be changed to account for exceptions which may lead to another theory altogether. Contradicting evidence cannot be dismissed.

      This is why, I'm interested to know if Mr. Savory's method has ever failed where it was tried.
      • Mar 18 2013: Alan kinda let slip one functional deficiency in a lot of natural systems for grazing; the water source (I think he quickly mentions it in reference to wildebeest). Because of the frequency and inherent traffic patterns getting to a water source, the area right around probably the most erosion sensitive ecotone in any ecosystem gets eroded beyond the ability for the animals to have a positive effect.

        Joel Salatin gets around this at Polyface Farms by using lightweight portable troughs he can transport with Quad runners, to which he has attached a water tank and pump. Pump the trough into the tank when you are ready to move the paddock (Joel uses portable electric fence on solar for his rotational grazing, mimicking Alan's predation pressure), move the paddock and trough, place trough (in a different spot than the last time you used this paddock), and refill. Brilliant!

        Joel and smart farmers like him have been following Alan for years. His holistic grazing is, at its core, biomimicry, and Nature runs the experiments for millions and billions of years. That sort of in depth research is rarely "wrong", it just needs a tweak here and there to make it work for us...
    • Mar 14 2013: There are some interesting issues here. Science, as most of us understand it, is essentially a reductionist process; you have to identify and control all the variables.

      But what Allan has developed here is HOLISTIC management. This is NOT a reductionist process.

      We have become accustomed to two competing epistemolgies: science and faith. We need new evidence procedures, new ways of evaluating outcomes. I suspect that this is what I will find as I read the books, but I'm not there yet. Still, Savory says it took him decades to appreciate Smuts' ideas. I'll give myself four hours on the plane to Denver tomorrow! ;)
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    Mar 12 2013: I used to believe, like many others, that going vegetarian was essential for our planet. I was a vegetarian for eleven years.

    I feel I know much better now, and I certainly feel much better. My body evolved to get the protein and fats of wild animals, including ruminants, birds, and fish. The ecosystem of the earth evolved to have these animals integrated into it, keeping the plants, soil, and waters healthy. What was not part of the natural pattern, was grain fed ruminants and fish, nor devastating agriculture. That's a new thing that is bad for the planet and people. So, the problem wasn't animals, it was modern animal production. If we can manage animals in a new way, that is restorative, and has the proper balance of nutrients and such, then the initial claim on why it is important to be a vegetarian is no longer necessarily the case.

    The tough idea to finally get, was that livestock - properly managed - are actually part of a climate change solution. In fact, to take it one step further, they are essential. You can't mitigate climate change without them, because you won't be able to reverse desertification on most of the worlds degraded grasslands unless livestock are reintroduced in a restorative manner.
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      Mar 13 2013: I was really impressed by Mr. Savory's talk. I expected to hear some usual environmental doom and gloom, but instead I heard a delicious idea of how to solve the climate change while chewing on some steak from a grass-fed free-range calf. (My apologies to vegetarians. Perhaps, it's the lent season that makes me sensitive to beef-related topics :-)) The photos talk for themselves.

      I don't want to sound like a smart alec, but it came across my mind that it might be lucrative to buy deserted land for cheap and set up cattle ranches rather than persuade scientists and governments with data. Then use the money to promote the cause while getting rich, feeding people, and saving the world. What a wonderful way to "take advantage of the nature". Is it a silly idea?
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    Mar 9 2013: I respond quite well to new ideas. My process has always been to argue my point the best I possibly can, and if my points are inferior to another person's points than I will gladly reconsider my belief.

    I believe the only way to stop out prejudices from unfairly shaping decision making is to attempt to eliminate prejudice in the first place, keep an open mind, stay objective, and let facts determine the solution.

    I am in favor of anything, cow or not, that could help save the world.
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    Mar 9 2013: There is no such thing as 'global problems'. Different communities have problems that are specific to them. And most of these local communities are aware of the need for change, and of the actions that would bring solutions.

    Problems usually arise at the level of the elite, the rich and influential, who are usually in the minority, and who stand to gain from the established order.
    Communities that are bearing the brunt of oil spills and desert encroachment do not need too much preaching to agree to solutions. But if multinationals (faceless and usually based in the world's big financial centres) are thrown in the mix, then everything becomes complicated since money is involved.
    So, instead of a search for solutions, it becomes all talk and talk; jargons and calculations and debates that offer little or no relief to the victims of the power play.
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    Mar 8 2013: For a long time people evolve their thinking to not end up like their parents, or as stubborn as the eldery couple who lives down the street, but upon finding a good philosophy or belief system that we or the person may feel comfortable with, I've noticed people become somewhat protective and even isolated, choosy and judgmental, how are they any different than the close minded towns with Men that have muliple wives, or really strict cults.
    The whole reason we set out on an adventure, or on a journey to self discovery or to shape our belief system is to ever progress and to stay open to the possibility that something might change, not to end up a closeminded individual with no sense of real opinion or nothing to contribute to societys problems or whatever.
    • Mar 8 2013: Being choosy and judgemental means you have standards. You need to have standards. People are not equal in ethics, intelligence or goodness.
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    . . 100+

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    Mar 6 2013: Step No. 1 ----
    NEVER see DESTROYING LIFE as a SOLUTION TO SAVING LIVES.
    • Mar 8 2013: Destroying life?
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        . . 100+

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        Mar 8 2013: Dear Travis,

        It looks like you are new to the TED community!! It is my pleasure to welcome you !!
        I recommend listening to all Talks published by TED.
        Click on this and hear the talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html
        He is an amazing man :-)

        ~Best regards.
        • Mar 8 2013: Not new to TED, just new to this conversation, I have watched the video and my question still stands. What I'm saying is it really depends on your perspective with regards to the comment you made. In many areas of the world consuming animal flesh is 100% necessary part of existence. For example His Holiness the Dali Lama becomes ill if he goes too long with out meat. It is not the consuming of animal flesh that is wrong, it is the manner in which it is done, with little or no reverence to the live given. I have a hard time with orthodox vegan thought. I think that it is fairly narrow minded in general. While it has it's place, so does the omnivore. If we can reintegrate the grass lands and nourish an entire population, I fail to see the "destruction" of life you speak of. All things are impermanent and everything serves a purpose. I could go on, but you get my point. Thank you.
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        Mar 8 2013: I am humbled to know that my comment intrigued you or anyone into participation in TED conversations:-)

        ALLAN says that "40,000 elephants were killed first - before reaching full understanding - just based on a FALSE BELIEF ".

        To see the "destruction" of life I speak of listen to (T: 6:20 - 6:37) at http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html

        I am thinking agroforestry, reforestation, soils, permaculture, rebalancing carbon, climate...and...healthy human bodies... for that we need to eat a balanced diet of nutrition that is responsibly and naturally and organically produced, free range, free of hormones and pesticides, etc. Which brings us right to the value of poo :-) There is the sheep, goat, cow, chicken, giraffe, hippo..and elephants to consider.

        Elephant basics: an elephant can be born every five years....it can reproduce from age 15 until age 40...but there are only four days in five years for courtship, and mates have to find each other miles and oceans apart, and coordinate their iCals. So with maximum luck, we can have 5-6 elephant births in an elephant’s life time (in 60 years). Poo basics: 7 kg of dung, per elephant, per day multiplied by 40,000 elephants..I am not going to do the math for each animal here but....I am guessing that was a factory of some good organic fertilizer :-)

        And now that we lost those elephants who were there to begin with, (and it probably took them 100 years to get to that population number :-( we humans have to desperately move around the world and assist them breed as fast as possible.

        On a separate note, I am honored that you have awarded me the title "orthodox vegan"...I love you for it....but unfortunately for me, I can not accept it because I failed that aspiration and I too remain an omnivore. And I agree with everything you have written:-)
  • Mar 6 2013: Linda,

    Thanks for weighing in with this comment to start a new thread..

    Some of the best work on this topic remains Thomas Kuhn's work. "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." I re-read it recently, just hunting for the nuggets (it can be pretty heavy reading) for some work I am currently doing around health care and new ideas --- and found his insights into how revolutions take place in science as pertinent as ever. Recommended for all following this discussion on Allan's talk. (Shannon Horst, co-founder Savory Institute)
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    Mar 5 2013: Linda! I havent' seen you forever!!! Good question!

    One of my underlying worldviews is to evolve as an individual, while contributing to the whole, so I cannot imagine how solutions to global problems would ever challenge my worldview! Solutions to global challenges are very much a part of my worldview....how lucky is that??? LOL:>)

    I perceive life as an adventurous exploration, so "fear of being wrong" is not part of my experience or world view. I agree with you, however, that fear of being wrong often DOES get in the way of change.

    With the idea of life as an adventure/exploration, I LOVE challenges to my existing belief system. How else could I learn and grow, if not considering new information all the time?

    How do we stop paradigms and prejudices from shaping decision making, or preventing change?
    Realize that we are limiting ourselves by insisting on staying "in the box" of conventional wisdom:>)
  • Mar 5 2013: The only way I have found to accept new ideas or paradigms is through active critical reflection on the patterns we wish to transcend. If all we do is keep reacting to new stimuli with old mental models, there is little room for positive changes. Our youth need to be taught this much earlier than college, to recognize biases and understand how to move past them. I am excited and intrigued by the simplicity of this solution, having planned grazing solve not only desertification, but also climate change. I have been wrong more than I would like to admit, and that is why most people cannot see themselves clearly enough to change -- pride and/or fear of change. We need more role models willing to walk people through coping with complexity this century than ever before, and remember to respect the spiritual aspects of reality (i.e. interconnectedness).
  • Mar 14 2013: I'm lucky ... before seeing the TED talk I knew nothing about any of this. As a gardener I have always believed in caring for the soil (deep beds, no dig, masses of compost, companion plants, etc) but the greatest amount of livestock I ever managed is three hens.

    So I had no paradigms. At least, not around this subject.

    And I have read Kuhn, and dealt with conflicting paradigms in the past (try submitting a post-grad thesis based on co-operative inquiry, as opposed to reductionist research methods!)

    And I'm an enthusiastic follower of the so-called "paleo" movement (enthusiastic, not religious!) so I'm delighted at the prospect that raising organic grass-fed beef could be an answer to so many environmental ills as well as human health problems.

    Now, how can we put our recent inheritance and life-time delivering management and personal training to good use to help others overcome their paradigm conflicts? Maybe running some co-operative inquiries into the life-changing effects of understanding and implementing holistic decision making into all walks of life.

    Anyone interested?

    In the meantime I'm reading the books.
    • Mar 14 2013: Hi James - Yes I'm interested !! Margriet here from 'Down Under' (Australia). We also have a miracle-working desert re-greener down here in the person of Peter Andrews & his method is called 'natural sequence farming'. Instead of using live-stock initially to rehabilitate degraded land, this method uses WEEDS. The key to rehabilitating degraded land is to revegitate & ANY way of accomplishing this must be done if we are going to save our planet. Literally. I think you agree. Weeds grow the quickest of any vegetation (& the most prolifically giving the greatest biomass in the shortest time) & if slashed at peak growth & left on the surface to cover the surface soil & then allowed to regrow several times, it only takes a few MONTHS this way to re-establish soil moisture & fertility at which point grasses & grains naturally re-invade the area after which this type of vegetation has become established the land can be stocked with whatever type of live stock the farmer desires. After the weed crops have worked their magic & restored fertility & moisture to the soild, in Peter's method this state of affairs is maintained by leaving all of the highest areas of land covered in trees & shrubs, as among other benefits when the area is re-stocked with animals they tend to do most of their resting & dunging up in the high areas under the shady trees AND when it rains the nutrients in the dung & urine get washed down back into the grassy areas.
      Some of the advantages of using weeds initially is that they do it all for free. They only have to be slashed a couple of times. And for the many vegetarians who are pricking up their ears about these fabulous ways of re-greening our planet & reversing global warming at the same time, natural sequence farming doesn't rely on beef production. So you don't have to go out & buy a herd of any kind of meat producing animals to be successful. Peter Andrews learned his method of desert reclamation raising horses. Check it out Cheers
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    Mar 13 2013: I have waited a couple of weeks after returning from TEDActive to write this post. I had hoped that my feelings of intense disappointment and disillusionment would dissipate, but they haven't. Would someone please explain the selection of Allan Savory for a TEDTalk, knowing that he had systematically exterminated 40,000 majestic elephants, as a result of his incorrect hypothesis? He did not even consider minimizing his recklessness by testing his theory on a much smaller population, in a smaller area. He removed native people from their land, destroyed 40,000 elephants and THEN discovered he was wrong. How can this barbarian be invited to speak at TED?!

    Additionally, Mr. Savory’s newest hair brained hypothesis flies in the face of widely accepted research about the root causes of desertification - including global warming, short-sighted over-planting, feeding methane releasing livestock instead of adopting vegetarianism, and deforestation.

    I am a foster mother to a couple of orphaned baby elephants at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Both of them were rescued after having witnessed poachers murder their mothers for their tusks. Some of the orphans die of grief. The ones who survive are greeted and surrounded in a literal circle of love by the other orphans, trunk to tail. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is the only organization that releases orphaned elephants back into the wild. After two years of care, they are ready to return to the African wilderness. The Sheldrick graduates send a subterranean message to each other, and then arrive from miles away to “pick up” the newest member of the herd.

    If Allan Savory feels any guilt for his grievous crime against nature, he can help -http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust. It is my fervent hope that the TED organizers would choose to invite real humanitarians like Dr. Daphne Sheldrick, Dr. Jane Goodall, Ric O'Barry - Dolphin Project, Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, among others. Please add to the list - I will be happy to forward it.
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      Mar 13 2013: Thank you for your honest post Robin. I can most definitely appreciate your feeling, particularly knowing how much love and investment you have for these magnificent creatures! It's my guess others will respond to your post but I simply want to say that a mistake doesn't translate to a barbarian. I have worked with Allan in various situations over the last couple of decades, and your description is inconsistent with his character. That said, I understand why you would see it this way when your life is dedicated to their survival!

      I cannot speak for Savory, but I know his commitment is to sustaining all life. The unfortunate, unintended consequences of man's decision making can be devastating. It is for this very reason Savory developed the holistic decision making model. His intent was to prevent as many unintended consequences as possible, by addressing root causes and working towards the best possible outcome for the whole - including every elephant. In our quest for answers, or a job responsibility to a single cause (i.e. endangered specie,rangeland, deserts, etc.) , we have traditionally addressed one symptom or problem leaving us wide open for massive error to the system as a whole.

      Savory learned from his mistakes, rather than cow-towing (no pun intended) to those seeking to further their own agendas. Over the years, I've witnessed him repeatedly choosing blunt honesty and transparency, over popularity and sentimentality. I can only imagine the horror it was for a wildlife biologist like Savory to know elephants suffered at all. Isn't it how we address our mistakes - if we're paying enough attention to notice them - that matters? Making decisions holistically with vigilant attention to the results in the process will limit many unintended consequences. Savory's model has deeply influenced land management across the globe. He is rarely given credit for his monumental influence towards global sustainability - and there is still a long way to go.
      • Mar 14 2013: Linda, what a beautiful response!

        Thank you; I learned something this evening.
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        Mar 14 2013: Dear Linda,

        Thank you for your response. As a foster mom to orphaned baby elephants, I was saddened that Allan Savory had convinced the government to implement his plan on such an enormous scale. Systematically shooting 40,000 elephants to test a theory that proved to be incorrect is unconscionable.

        It seems to me that desertification solutions could include restoring the land back to the native nomadic people whom Allan Savory forcibly removed, and helping to protect and restore the elephant population, rather than bringing in methane producing non-native livestock.
    • Mar 14 2013: Robin,

      Mr. Savory's research, which led to 40,000 elephant deaths, was conducted in the early 1960's. At that time, the prevailing scientific thought was, required rest of the land to save desertification of the grasslands. The idea was, culling those elephants would eventually improve land quality and allow the grasslands to thrive, including the bounce-back of remaining elephants. Obviously, he regrets this decision, since he admitted so during the lecture, and if you have ever read any of his books you would understand he has a passion for saving all wildlife. People tend to make major mistakes early in life and regret them, this would be one of Savory's.

      Mr. Savory's way of grazing livestock is considerably different then the conventional methods used to raise livestock, most of which never actually see grass. As a cattleman myself, I can attest to the wonders a properly managed livestock herd can do to one's land. When grass is grazed properly by livestock; plant and animal diversity grow; soil quality and water retention increase; erosion and run-off into streams decrease. There are actually quite a few books that outline the success of intensive grazing. I'd be happy to offer some suggested reading to help change your mind.
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        Mar 14 2013: Dear Christopher,

        I am a vegetarian and would not be interested in reading books about livestock. Since you are a cattleman, I am pretty sure we would not agree about the environmental problems created by methane producing livestock, and in our ability to feed starving people around the planet, instead of livestock.
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      Mar 14 2013: Robin,

      I understand your emotional attachment to elephants. However, emotional attachments often cloud our judgment.

      I commend Mr. Savory for the courage of admitting his mistake of killing 40,000 elephants in public. He has to carry this cross till the end of his life now, face accusations like yours, which jeopardize all his subsequent results. He HAS to admit his mistake in every public speech he makes. If he does NOT mention it, he would be discredited as scientist for life. It's exactly BECAUSE he admitted doing it in his speech, I believe, he should be allowed to speak at TED. It shows him as a man of considerable integrity. Actually, this mistake and him admitting it, ADDS credibility to his research in my eyes. People who make such mistakes in the past would go 10 extra miles to make sure such mistake is not repeated.

      There is an old Russian saying "bowed heads don't get chopped off".
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        Mar 15 2013: Dear Arkady,

        I have not heard of any sane scientific research that began with the slaughter of FORTY THOUSAND elephants. I wholeheartedly believe in forgiveness. I completely disagree with Allan Savory’s previous and current solutions for desertification. It seems to me that solutions could include restoring the land back to the native nomadic people whom Allan Savory removed, and helping to protect and restore the elephant population, rather than bringing in methane producing non-native livestock.
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          Mar 15 2013: Robin, as Margriet's comment below implies, native people in Australia have caused as much environmental damage over thousands of years as modern practices, before methane-producing animals were introduced to Australia. This seems to support the hypothesis that it's removal of grazing species that turned Australia into desert, not methane.

          I don't defend slaughtering 40,000 elephants. That was an act bordering with a crime by today's standards. But mind you, his conclusions were peer-reviewed and were found to be in-line with a scientific opinion popular at the time. So, he did not make this decision without asking anyone. Those who agreed with him back then should share the responsibility. I'd say the message here is that today's popular environmental theories that we accept as truth (like methane-producing livestock that you mention) could be wrong as well. Are we sure that someone will not consider what we do a crime 50 years from now?

          Allan's main idea is not introducing non-native livestock. Its a method of grazing the grass. It can be done by any grazing animals - bison, rhinoceros or wombats. This is what seems to bring results. But if he is able to achieve results with cows, it clearly proves that methane was not the major issue, but the grazing was.

          I always wondered why extra CO2 emitted into the atmosphere and allegedly responsible for the global warming is not absorbed by plants. Plants love CO2. It's their food. The answer seems to be - because plants are destroyed by something else, not by the CO2 in the atmosphere. And Allan's research seems to provide the answer.

          I still admire Allan for admitting his past mistake. Perhaps, it's this mistake that caused him to think independently of the prevailing mainstream scientific theories. He seems to know enough about herding to understand the dangers of herd mentality.
        • Mar 18 2013: I have to second Arkady on virtually all points, and as a quasi-vegan (fish-eating, with occasional meat intake), I gotta say I agree with a lot of what Robin says as well...

          My occasional meat intake comes from a local farm. I know the farmer and the farm; it is a small herd, well managed and MIRGed, and the beef is gras raised AND grass finished. My move to plant based (mostly) was not based on emotional or social pressures, but on health matters, to which I have had clear and resounding results I can see and feel. I would advocate for a mostly plant based diet for EVERYONE; it is curative, restorative and sustainable for both you AND the planet...

          Robin, I think you missed something significant in the talk, blinded by that PETA II rage I know so well from cohabitating with my wife, a like minded vegetarian like yourself. YOu were so busy being mad at ALan for what he had done that you missed how mad, sad, and dissapointed he was with himself about that decision. As Arkady points out, at the time, it was done with the best intentions based on the best avaiable information. You are basing your feelings on current available information, which, if Alan had access to at the time, would have ASSUREDLY made your anger unecessary, as it NEVER would have gone down. Alan has to live with his decision for the rest of his life, as he said himself, and the pain in his eyes brought tears to mine as he said it. But how many of us have the courage to present our greatest failure as a global citizen, as cautionary tale to the rest? Damn few...

          These herds, wild or domesticated, are the answer to an immediate problem. We do not have immediate access to wild herds of ungulates, and we have ready access to vast quantities of domestic animals, for the most part being managed very badly. Doesn't it make a certain amount of sense to utilize the latter, reducing the damages to soil and helping with the damages to atmosphere by so doing?

          Please remember the question originally asked.
    • Mar 14 2013: Hello Robin - Up until 50,000 - 60,000 years ago 2/3rds of Australia was covered in lush vegetation. Research now strongly suggests that when the First Australians arrived they exterminated all of the mega fauna - what must have been vast herds of them, all within a few thousand years. As these animals - wombats as big as rhinocerouses - were un-afraid of humans, killing & eating them would have posed no problem whatsoever. Just walk up to one & plunge a spear into its heart. Allan Savory's 'conservationists' slaughtered 40,000 large herbivours with guns. All crimes of unimaginable proportions.
      The loss of the vast herds of mega fauna from the Australian continent had the same effect on this land that Allan's removal of the vast herds of African elephants had on Africa - as did the removal of the vast herds of bison on the American midwest. First, here in Australia after the demise of the mega fuana, the lush vegetation grew back madly unchecked & smoke & charcoal sediments in lake bottoms from that time are evidence that lighting-started wild fires stripped the continent bare of this plant cover almost immediately, or this plant cover just died & oxidised as Allan shows that it does without herbivores to eat & recycle it. Oxidising plants ruining the soil.
      After this initial devastation of Australia 50,000 yrs ago then the 'second Australians' arrived a couple of hundred years ago & we late comers have utterly devastated millions & millions of once productive land all-over again.
      Yes. Let's recognise the unspeakable crimes we humans have perpetrated on this planet - & on each other !!!! - but let's get on with 'un-doing' these atrocities. Let's weep for the elephants, bison & herds of wombats as big as rhinocerouses - but let's get on with restoring our ecologies & reversing climate change at the same time.
      In Australia we have a miracle-working desert re-greener in the person of Peter Andrews. His method is called 'natural sequence farming'. Check it out.
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        Mar 15 2013: Dear Margriet,

        Thank you so much for your message. I really appreciated receiving it. It looks like desertification solutions could include helping to protect and restore the native animal populations, rather than bringing in methane producing non-native livestock. I will check out Peter Andrews and his natural sequence farming.
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    Mar 13 2013: Ha. Silly?! Sounds brilliant. Go do it!
  • Mar 12 2013: -- continued from my previous comment on 'contrived epiphanies'.
    Cult recruitment practices work extremely well when they do work because the recruits are taken 'there' - they are invited/persuaded to enter into a world where they are (seemingly) 'loved' & taken care of some for the first time in their lives. Recruits are flooded with epiphanic-inducing circumstances & spoken messages. These two examples of 'arranged epiphanies' do not exhaust the list.
    My point being that epiphanies do happen, are possible, not only change the subject's mind but not infrequently his or her whole way of being, & also can be deliberately orchestrated & in the hands of ethical 'practitioners' operate to the good of everyone concerned.
    Imagine for effectively most people's minds could be changed by visiting a example of Allan's work.
    In the 'greening the planet & reversing climate change via the Allan Savory's method' 'ethical practitioners' could be no more than 'tour guides' showing willing visitors around examples of his work.
    Undoubtedly the Savory Institute is also an extremely powerful & highly ethical epiphany-inducing phenomenon in its own right - any one desiring to become involved in this work, attending the Institute & becoming a student of his ideas, would almost certainly be guaranteed non-stop epiphanies on a daily basis .. ... .. Sure wish I could - & take along a couple of nay-sayers too if I could persuade them . . . . . . Cheers from Down Under
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      Mar 13 2013: I love this post Margriet. You're so right about epiphanies and how people respond to them. I particularly appreciated your comment about the failure of an intervention when the subject's 'psychic garden soil' is not fertile. So true.

      I don't know if people experience the type of 'epiphany' you describe at Savory's Institute. I know I didn't. It was interesting, but not for the reason one might think. The realization solutions might look different than those within my neatly defined, urban, environmental worldview were most fascinating. I took the challenge and pursued the actual practice of it. My actions did lead to epiphanies but not the type we have at a personal growth seminar, or even a TED conference. Instead, the process opened me up to the idea of using more tools than I had imagined to achieve my goal. I accredit these experiences to a more open worldview in general towards humanity and a much deeper appreciation for the wonder of our natural world as a whole. I'm grateful for that.
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      Mar 12 2013: Lasting Change........for good........evolution :-)
  • Mar 10 2013: "It's what you know for sure that just ain't so that gets you in trouble." (attribited to Mark Twain, Will Rogers and others). The coming "Perfect Storm of ecological/economic/social collapse" Alan warns of is caused primarily by a disconnect between human cultural (including scientific folklore) expectations and beliefs and the facts of nature.

    The following is as plainly and calmly stated as I can make it. The unquestioned, uncritical, emotionally-held belief that "simply leaving nature alone to heal itself" will solve most nature-related problems in the seasonal rainfall lands described in the talk is nothing but a self-ssued licence to kill nature--without limit--in any way the myth's adherants believe is "Natural".

    I--and everyone else I know with long experience and/or scientific awareness of successfully solving problems in nature (whether they know it or not) are in fundamental agreement with what Savory's actually saying.

    If we let go of our culturally-issued "License to Kill Everything As Long As Somebody Says It's Natural" and find out what dynamics actually heal and kill ecosystems--the terrible awareness of the "coming storm" sets in--as ability to tell life from death increases. Example: Severe-intensity forest fires are measurably (and almost always) up to 3 orders of magnitide WORSE in terms of soil loss, soil sterility, habitat loss, species loss, downstream aquatic organism and aquatic habitat loss etc.--than CUTTING and HAULING OFF EVERY TREE. Please question the assumptions driving governmental and NGO policy and driving skilled rural people off the land.
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      Mar 13 2013: Hi Steve :) It's great to see you here at TED Conversations! Agreed on everything you say above. The 'natural' fire trend has been devastating, but not nearly as devastating as our decision making and the entropy of our bureaucratic processes. An old friend once said, "You can measure the entropy of an organization by the weight of its manual." So true. The inability to practice sustainable and creative decision making, so often driven by 'popular opinion' has been the most devastating of all. We have the tools we need for restoration..."the pieces are laying around in plain sight." Quote: Steve Rich :)
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    Mar 9 2013: I have my essential beliefs firmly rooted in my personality. But, even my fears become strong, I never let the need for security closing my eyes to the light that can come of new opinions, news or events. It's very nice rating, think and change if necessary. This is one (of many) way to feel alive, for me.
  • Mar 9 2013: There is nothing you know now that won't change when you know.

    Or said otherwise ...people don't know when they don't know they don't know....

    The recent Sheldrake thread kaffle is a good working example ....the speed of light ...to narrow the example down.

    There are "other" types/qualities of light beside material (reflected) light and that light is beyond any "concept" of speed or time.

    For myself the Savory presentation had many many .."who wait a minute" pauses in it....I am an old farm boy so I know the difference between cow pies and BS ..I have also done a lot of travelling across open Ranch range land (previously
    Buffalo ) and so know some of the "sensitivities" only the ranches themselves can explicate. In short these grassland are a sacred as earth intelligence can communicate to HUman intelligence.

    But that said I also saw/hear/felt many "Yes" gut feel intuitions in his presentation....point that would be best left to ranchers and herdsmen on the african plain to confirm or reject

    And that leads me to how I can respond to your question "how do you respond too" ....I go to the folks who are in most direct contact with the subject at hand...not the "well-meaning" or the current crop of 'say anything politician/bureaucrats in order to keep my job'.

    And so to your final question "What ideas have you believed and been completely wrong" ( Lady you sure have a mixed bag question here but anyway)

    well for one. That "beliefs" can be a legitimate substitute for "Ideas". One has to be Very observant of ones Emotions and how they influence one's 'Desire-thoughts' vs 'thought-desires'
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      Mar 13 2013: Hi Ed :) Your mixed bag comment made me laugh. I needed a laugh today - it's moving day for me! I suppose I threw it in because the idea of cows restoring grasslands shocked me years ago - when I moved from NYC to Idaho. It changed how I looked at the world and my paradigms from that day forward. I began looking for solutions, instead of causes.

      As an old range rider (or should I say 'former range rider' ;), you're aware how large these expanses of land are! Many ranchers practice Holistic Management around the world with success, and a problem lies in how we define success. Success in this process dictates working toward your goal which generally includes healthier land - in addition to goals for the people, finances, even quality of life. When working towards something as complex as natural systems and human behavior, the results vary. Obviously, it is not a controlled environment.

      A great barrier to making large scale change on America's public rangelands has been our bureaucratic process which limits flexibility as it relates to grazing and livestock. Regulations prohibiting flexibility and numbers was the result of logical decision making based on traditional grazing practices in the past that resulted in severe over grazing. This remains an issue on western lands, particularly when riparian health is also an important consideration and a public concern. In the end, the bottom line will be society's willingness to explore all possibilities to reverse global climate change - and this might be another important and feasible solution towards that end.
  • Mar 7 2013: There is only growth about 4 months I think. Only 1/3rd year? I was reading about chia seed (Aztecs) last night and this, apparently is very hardy, tenacious and strongly nutritious. The dessert conditions are ideal.
    Without the issue of meat, assuming there is room for several ideas and practices, would this be a practical idea for planting in those 8 months?
    Has anyone got more information about methane gas - surely there is some way to avoid so many greenhouse gases? Less people and less cars. less fossil fuels has not answered this exactly for me.
    Re- fossil fuels. i read that in some states in America there was forward thinking and that homes could receive windmills and pay gradually via the electric bills and this seemed an extremely practical and immediate practice that could be pursued immediately. This could be an effective tool worldwide and I think solar panels could be worked into this practice. I am impressed about the actions rather than words as this is such a vital issue.
    Are people discussing generalities and huge theories here that may or may not be agreed upon at some future time?
    If there is room for the individual practices that put together create, hopefully, real solutions then perhaps that could be a useful way to use immediately whilst talks proceed?
  • Mar 6 2013: I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Elaine Ingham not long after she and Alan had been meeting, and to get her perspective (that of probably the leading soil biologist on the planet) in relation to his work was amazing. She made it very clear to me that my long held belief, that old growth forest was the best natural carbon sink we could develop, was way off base; it was her opinion that from what Alan was showing her, savannah, due to it's higher root densities, and greater depth of root zone, coupled with a much higher biodiversity (both above and below the soil surface), made it a much better carbon sink (it was also neat to see that Dr. Ingham was just as geeked out about Alan's work as I was; scientific aloofness is a myth from my (admittedly limited) contacts with big name scientists).

    Now I must challenge my belief that we need to lose meat as part of the diet, as it appears that meat on the hoof is the answer to our most pressing issue, and as an old swamp Yankee I cannot stomach waste. I still stand by the fact that we eat too much meat, and that unrecovered methane is a bigger issue than cars, and the fact that I have gotten off nearly all the meds I was taking for affluenza and basically reversed my Type II diabetes speaks to the strengths and potentials for a plant based diet, but I do miss a bit of steak now and then, and Alan has made a good argument for not giving meat up entirely. So perhaps this isn't as deeply a held belief as you would like me to examine, but I am still looking at it...

    But I am usually willing to look at data, even when it is not supporting my beliefs. But usually data does, because I base most of my opinions on science. Ask those who base their beliefs on other criteria, and I suspect the answer will be different...
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    Mar 5 2013: Range scientists and environmentalist need to understand that Holistic Management is developed specifically to help reverse desertification by using livestock to mimic the beneficial evolutionary grazing patters of wild ruminants. It is *not* conventional livestock management in any form, and the well know deleterious results of conventional practices are not measures of it's efficacy. The proof of it's successes are in the land itself, where good grass cover and surface water replace bare soil.
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    Mar 19 2013: There is a fascinating book by Stephen Jay Gould, titled "Wonderful Life" that illustrates some of the forces in scientific dialogue that can lead to a stifling dogmatism...Mr. Gould was not, I believe, intending to castigate Science in particular, but to illustrate that science shared this pitfall as a human created institution. The greatest challenge of successful thinkers is to disregard the allure of their own ideas sufficiently to allow "the other" to enter ones precious domain. I love this subtle art.
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    Mar 18 2013: I tend to follow the often mentioned method of preventing, or at least delaying dogmatism from creeping into my mind. I ask myself a simple question, "What scenario/evidence would be needed to disprove my beliefs?". This sounds like a reasonable method of opening up your mind to alternative ideas. But it is not a foolproof solution; I doubt we have found any foolproof magic compass that always guides one in the right direction (assuming there is even a right direction at all). That is why Deng Xiaoping, when asked what he thought of the French Revolution, remarked that "it was too early to tell". Only by allowing different forms of discourse to flourish and form counterpoises over time will we eventually be able to discern which is the better course. This applies to everything from climate change to political institutions and moral philosophy. (with a little footnote at the bottom: anything but mutually assured destruction)
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      Mar 18 2013: A good point, but I like to be pro-active. For me to wait for a course of events to "event" is sort of like waiting to see if the forest fire will burn my house or the wind will change direction and spare me.
      Not easy. But, I can appreciate those who have nerves of steel