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 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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