TED Conversations

Linda Hesthag  Ellwein

Communications, Change, and Photography, Oikonomia, Inc.


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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 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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