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 14 2013: A terrifically fascinating topic.

    After 12 years as a near-vegetarian who never misses an opportunity to tell people how bad meat-eating is for the environment, for the first time, I've heard a compelling presentation to make me reconsider and at a minimum do some research.

    One burning question for me is, assuming it's true that the water used to produce meat protein (even if it's via this holistic approach vice factory farming) still dwarfs the water used to produce plant-based protein.... - how does that issue interact with what the presenter is advocating?
    • Mar 15 2013: Tom, you are not alone in this thought. I must say that my thoughts are not unbiased as a beef producer on a holistically managed property. But what I take away from Allan Savoury's talk is that there is not enough land on this earth to feed the world on plant based food. There is a lot of land in a lot of countries that is not suitable for producing crops. Whilst we could let all the land return to national parks, Allan's research shows that the land will turn to desert, even if it is locked up. Great tracks of desert, just as mountain ranges do, effect were the rain falls and in what quantities. Crops need rain at the right time to yield and they cannot be sustained in isolation of the surrounding landscape.

      In regards to the amount of water livestock production requires, livestock production can utilise water in different ways to cropping and the vast majority of landscapes don't receive the rainfall in the right quantities at the right time to produce a viable crop. Whereas, by holistically managing the landscape you can get that water to remain within the landscape and it can be used to water stock all year round.

      Also it worth remembering that he is talking about ticking two very large boxes - rehabilitating land AND feeding people.
      • Mar 16 2013: Lauren, I always understood that it's an undeniable fact that, in general, producing protein on the hoof is more costly in terms of resources than producing it via plants. If that's true it stands on it's head the argument that there's not enough land to feed people on a plant-based diet -- I didn't actually get that from his talk. I got that in certain places that would be the case...but, not in general. Of course, many resources ...like the cost of land being depleted...aren't priced properly, if at all. Trade-offs apply everywhere...so, is the trade-off of reducing desertification against expending more of other resources...like water...a good one...a bad one....or a false one... - it probably depends upon the place and its characteristics.. -- one size doesn't fit all I suppose. All very thought-provoking.

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