Adam Sacks

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Adam Sacks
Posted 12 months ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Thanks for the link to this paper - I hadn't read it. I agree that it seems more measured, and it has interesting historical notes, but I think the terminology questions that he raises plague him as well as rangeland science in general, and his damning by faint praise dismisses Savory's work as effectively as outright attack. One of Briske's final paragraphs is telling: "We recommend that the profession initiate a more comprehensive evaluation of complex adaptive systems by integrating both the social and biophysical components of rangelands, including the diverse knowledge sources of managers, agency professionals, and researchers, to replace the narrow technological approach to grazing systems." This has actually been at the heart of Savory's work for decades now, so Briske's "recommendation" is a bit late to the party, Furthermore, his view of Savory's work is more clearly revealed in his posts on this TED talk two years later (http://www.ted.com/profiles/1797179), which are typically peppered with misinterpretation and inaccuracies. Just a couple of examples: Savory never claimed that "ALL non-forested land on the planet is degrading" - he distinguishes quite specifically between humid and semi-arid/arid environments; and Briske is just plain incorrect that Savory's "arguments regarding climate change and the carbon cycle are completely unsupported by the large amount of Earth science and climate change information available." For one reference of many, "grasslands and rangelands deserve greater attention, not only for their large extent, widespread degradation and limited resilience to drought and desertification, but also for their potential capacity to sequester and store carbon in soils" ("Review of evidence on drylands pastoral systems and climate change," FAO 2009, ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/i1135e/i1135e00.pdf). Robin, this is a complicated area of inquiry, and I congratulate you on your persistence in working to figure it out. Best, Adam
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Adam Sacks
Posted 12 months ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
My recollection is that Dr John Clatworthy, the range management specialist, only monitored vegetation species composition and did not monitor grass cover per se [grasslands that look healthy from a distance may be in poor condition when there is significant bare ground between plants]. I have no record or recollection of the statement made by McWilliams regarding either the supplementation or the profitability. No additional supplementation was required and my memory is that that neither ‘Poor Man Savory’ nor ‘Rich Man Savory was more or less profitable than the control managed by Mr David Worthington, managing Director of Charter Estates. I should add that the trials were not a ‘systematic research’ as Mr McWilliams contends but rather a demonstration by Savory to satisfy questions raised by Zimbabwean farmers in The Rhodesian Farmer regarding Savory’s contention that droughts were manmade. So typical of an academic with an axe to grind Mr McWilliams is using information that is 40 years old. What a pity he has not stayed up to date with developments since then. During those trials I was sufficiently convinced that with modification Savory’s principle had sufficient merit to be added to my consulting portfolio for livestock and business management. By the time I returned to Zimbabwe in 1998 I and my colleagues in Australia, Canada, Mexico, South Africa and Zimbabwe, had worked with well over ten thousand ranchers on three continents from the high rainfall areas of northern California to the desert regions of Namibia. In addition changes in their business and livestock management most of those ranchers were, and still are, using the grazing principles developed by Allan Savory. It is they rather than the academics in their ivory towers who should be asked if controlled grazing management works. I believe you will find the answer is in the affirmative.
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Adam Sacks
Posted 12 months ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
I am re-posting here a comment posted by Stan Parsons on the James McWilliams Slate article. It captures the overall sad state of affairs of the current "debate" on Holistic Management, on the TED site and elsewhere. That is, skeptics tend to take a competitive "I'm much smarter than you" stance and protect their turf, rather than sitting down together with people who have decades of experience different from theirs and trying to address what we all acknowledge are serious problems. Stan Parsons wrote: I refute the statements made by James McWilliams on the Charter Grazing Trials. I was closely involved in monitoring those trials. As an economist (MS Purdue 1968) and animal scientist (PhD Natal University) 1966), I was one of three men asked to monitor the Charter grazing trials 1969 -75. McWilliams states that: “…there were problems during the Charter Grazing Trials, ones not mentioned in Savory’s dramatic talk. Cattle that grazed according to Savory’s method needed expensive supplemental feed, became stressed and fatigued, and lost enough weight to compromise the profitability of their meat. And even though Savory’s Grazing Trials took place during a period of freakishly high rainfall, with rates exceeding the average by 24 percent overall, the authors contend that Savory’s method failed to produce the marked improvement in grass cover claimed from its application.” (continued in next post)
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Adam Sacks
Posted 12 months ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Very briefly, those are a couple of caveats about the scientific evidence presented by HM skeptics. Adam Merberg's "Cows Against Climate Change" commentary is actually one of the more thoughtful ones. Savory's language can be inconsistent and confusing at times, and it has changed over the years (of course, the same applies to many scientists) - because understandings evolve and contexts change. Where Merberg misses the point (aside from any details), is the reliance on experimental data as a gold standard. There are instances when experimental data simply do not apply because the system is too complex. When isolating variables in a complex system like grasslands you fundamentally change what you are studying, and any results apply to the whole system merely by chance. That's what's happening here. HM has adequate rigorous and reproducible evidence to scale up, but most of it is not in the form of numbers derived from experiments. It's from examining the work of hundreds of practitioners on millions of acres on four continents. There are many papers on the Savory Institute website that will give you a better idea of what's actually happening on the ground (http://www.savoryinstitute.com/category/resources/). Yes, it is from "handpicked practitioners," but keep in mind that peer reviewers are also "handpicked practitioners," and have biases of their own. For a critical review of the work of the skeptics, see two non-peer-reviewed papers, http://planet-tech.com/blog/talking-points-regarding-savory, and http://planet-tech.com/blog/regarding-holechek-savory. These cite papers from the scientific literature supporting HM. Please review this material, and the TED comments. If you have further questions I will do my best to respond. Sincerely, Adam
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Adam Sacks
Posted 12 months ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Hi Robin - First of all, I want to apologize for my somewhat snippy response. It was late and those of us who advocate for Holistic Management go over this material ad infinitum (sometimes ad nauseum). This doesn't mean that some of the questions raised aren't valid, it's just that sometimes we simply get tired. And I appreciate your wanting to get a better handle on the issues, so I'll try to respond as well as I can, but 2,000 characters won't be enough because first we have to establish a fuller context. 1. What is science? Oh my god, what a can of worms! Is the only valid evidence that which isolates variables? What about the variables left out, can we safely assume that they have no effect on outcomes just because someone decided to leave them out? The differences between qualitative and quantitative scientific investigation are significant, and that current science is predominantly in quant mode makes it very difficult to study wholes. The difference in paradigms between holistic planned grazing and conventional rangeland management is profound. Using the latter to study the former is like using a microscope to look at the solar system - it's pretty hard to focus. Briske, Holochek et al. apparently don't even know that they have a conceptual chasm to cross. Savory's work must of course be subject to critique, but using criteria appropriate to the material at hand. 2. What is peer review? To quote a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, "Peer review is thus like poetry, love, or justice," difficult to define. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1420798/). The peers that do the reviewing generally agree with one another about the material reviewed, they're part of the same paradigm. Peer review fails when new paradigms are introduced. Thomas Kuhn went over this at length in his landmark 1962 work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (cont)
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Adam Sacks
Posted 12 months ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Except that Holistic Management stands up to peer review very well when the peer review actually studies implementation of Holistic Management; "peer review" by Briske, Holechek et al. fail to do that. Mr. McWilliams is, in fact, the one who is dead wrong. I invite you to review the many responses to this TED Talk from people who have been practicing and teaching Holistic Management for decades (Huggins Matanga's comment below is the most recent), there should be no need for me, or anyone else, to restate them at this point. There are many references here to pertinent material in the responses by experienced practitioners of Holistic Management.. I am sure you will find them enlightening as well as hopeful.
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Adam Sacks
Posted 12 months ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Reforestation* is wonderful in areas that have enough moisture to grow forests. While there is a spectrum of grassland habitats, the arid and semi-arid areas cannot support a forest ecosystem (although there may be scattered trees in some of them). Furthermore, grazing animals and grasslands evolved together - ruminants are an essential part of this biome, and perform functions that keep grasslands alive (just as grasslands keep ruminants alive). Finally, grasslands build soils faster because the biomass is largely recycled into the ground annually, whereas in forests a greater percentage of biomass is aboveground over decades or centuries. It's not a question of grasslands or forests, one or the other, one being "better" than another. They're different, to some extent they perform different functions in the global ecosystem, we need all of our interacting biomes (right now, we desperately need more Arctic ice, for example). So Locavore is to an extent right about forests, wrong about grasslands. I don't know why s/he makes the discussion so competitive - as I see it we're here to learn from one another by sharing information. Hope this helps. Adam *It's important to differentiate "reforestation" and "afforestation." Reforestation refers to restoring forest ecosystems in all their biodiversity. Afforestation is planting trees, often in a monoculture, for purposes of harvest or carbon credits. It is a prescription for ecosystem collapse, performing similarly to industrial agriculture.
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Adam Sacks
Posted about 1 year ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Scaling to a planetary level would be an enormous challenge, but is possible. Savory calls it the equivalent of a "war footing": http://www.savoryinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/GlobalStrategyforAddressingClimateChange2_1.pdf. As for other solutions applicable at a global scale with minimal unintended consequences, solutions that we have experience with for over 40 years, I'm more than open to hearing about it. I've been a climate activist for 13 years now, and this is the only thing that I've seen so far. Reforestation is great, but soils hold greater than 4 times more carbon than above-ground biomass http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/CarbonCycle/ and restoration/growth is relatively slow compared to perennial grasses. We need other solutions as well, but what they are is far from clear. Let's keep looking, but move ahead ASAP with what we've got.
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Adam Sacks
Posted about 1 year ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Hi Local - I'm interested in sharing information, not fighting with you. So thanks for the interesting information on Auroville and the tree planting. The key is that they're restoring "the indigenous plants that constitute TDEF ('Tropical Dry Evergeen Forest'), an ecosystem unique to this region, and one that is currently endangered." I don't think anyone involved with Holistic Management would have any argument with that; that is precisely what Holistic Planned Grazing is about, eco-restoration and all the wonderful things, such as improved water and carbon cycles, that go along with it. Cheers! Adam
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Adam Sacks
Posted about 1 year ago
Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change
Dear Local - Allan Savory and everyone else at the Savory Institute is all for planting lots of trees (but doing it by restoring full forest ecosystems, not in monocultures, of course). But you can't do that on the 40% of the earth's land surface that are semi-arid and arid lands - forests won't grow there, it's too dry. That's where grasslands are, that's where they belong, the plants and animals have co-evolved in those environments, and to restore them you need ruminants - wild or domestic, they fill pretty much the same niche. Perhaps wild would be best, but it's too late for that, those vast herds are mostly gone thanks to homo sapiens. And true deserts, with almost no moisture, are to be left alone. As it turns out, grasslands are better storage systems for carbon than are trees. The soils are much deeper and the carbon stored there is in the form of stable biomolecules that are taken out of the active carbon cycle for hundreds or thousands of years (as long as we don't plow it). Above-ground biomass, on the other hand, continuously circulates carbon into the atmosphere, and does not serve as a carbon sink nearly as well as below-ground biomass. The bottom line is to restore ecosystems to the state before excessive human impact, while realizing that a desertified grassland is not the same as a desert, and even if it looks desert-like it can relatively easily and quickly be turned green again. As for the elephant story, to repeat what prior commenters have said, Allan offered it so that we could understand his struggle and transition, and as an example of how important it is to learn from one's mistakes. It was a huge and painful mistake for him personally, although understandable in the context of his work and times, but it would be a far more serious mistake to be paralyzed by it and give up. Would that we were all so honest in dealing with our ignorance and error. Adam