Ecologist Allan Savory discusses restoring grasslands
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 01:01
Restoration ecologist Allan Savory, president and co-founder of the grassland restoration organization Savory Institute, evoked the importance of reversing global warming at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Friday.
The Center for International Environment and Resource Policy (CIERP), the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and Planet-TECH Associates sponsored the event. “Reversing Global Warming while Meeting Human Needs: An Urgently Needed Land-Based Option” was the first in a series of “Creating the Future We Want” events that will continue throughout the semester.
President of Planet-TECH Associates Seth Itzkan, who worked with Savory at Savory Institute’s sister organization Holistic Management, gave opening remarks to introduce Savory.
Savory received the Buckminister Fuller Award in 2010 for his research and methods of reversing desertification through incorporation of livestock and is currently a finalist for the Virgin Earth Challenge, Itzkan said. The Virgin Earth Challenge will award 25 million dollars to a recipient who proposes a viable design and method of decreasing greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere and is the largest award of its type given in history.
Savory began the lecture by describing the role of agriculture in society. “Agriculture is the foundation of all society,” he said.
Savory argued that pressing social issues such as poverty, social breakdown and immigration to overcrowded cities are all symptoms of agricultural mismanagement. He then said that climate change is rooted more in agriculture than in fossil fuels or any other factor.
“We cannot just mitigate climate change, we must address it,” Savory said.
Savory explained that his “Holistic Management” approach to reversing global warming involves re-introducing animals to desertification-affected areas to restore soil quality.
Previously, standard methods of land restoration have included resting land by relocating or killing livestock and burning grasslands, Savory said. He argued that both of these methods worsen desertification in the long run.
“Resting the land is the cause of desertification,” he said. “Resting the land is highly dangerous. To maintain life we must maintain a cycle of birth, life, death and decay.”
Previous approaches to agriculture management and land restoration removed the critical process of biological decay and actually exacerbate the original problem, he said.
Savory recalled former Prime Minister of South Africa Jan Smuts’ famous argument that nature only functions in wholes and patterns. Because animals exist normally in nature, people must reintroduce livestock for nature to function as a whole, Savory argued. Livestock not only improve soil conditions through grazing and biological decay during digestion, but also serve critical roles such as laying litter and turning soil, he said.
Savory referenced multiple project sites in Africa, Australia and South America at which this holistic restoration approach has proven successful.
“Allan introduces to us a way we can work holistically to address the underlying causes of [climate change] rather than just the symptoms of it,” Professor of International Environmental Policy at Fletcher William Moomaw said.
Savory spoke later in the lecture about his vision of how this holistic management approach can be applied on a more global scale.
“America will hopefully lead the world in this [holistic movement] rather than remain the desertifying America we see today,” he said.
For the United States to lead this movement there must be a change in policy, Savory explained. He said that the policy must be achievable, have no unintended consequences and address climate change directly, arguing that a lack of such a policy is responsible for limited progress in addressing climate change.
“What is truly revolutionary about Savory’s Holistic Management is that not only does it help to reverse climate change, but also other economic, political and social issues connected to desertification,” Lauren Ferrucci, a Tufts senior and intern at Planet-TECH Associates, said. “It was amazing to have Savory, such a brilliant and passionate man, take the time to come speak at Tufts.”