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How Cattle Farming Methods Might Help Combat Climate Change

http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_change.html

I recently came across a blog post on Marc Gunther’s blog, Business.Sustainability, titled, “Meat Lovers, Rejoice! Cattle Could be a Climate-Change Solution”, (http://www.marcgunther.com/meat-lovers-rejoice-cattle-could-be-a-climate-change-solution/), where the controversial connections between livestock and world-wide green house gas emissions are contested by Jim Howell, a livestock farmer and believer in holistic farming methods. Gunther’s blog covers an array of topics in and around sustainability and business and Gunther is a highly respected and awarded environmental journalist.

Jim Howell owns a company called Grasslands LLC, a company devoted to monitoring environmental impacts of unconventional livestock management techniques also known as “holistic agricultural management”. Gunther clearly states Howell’s argument in the beginning of his blog, “Their argument, in brief, is that traditional ranching methods can degrade land and threaten biodiversity but that, when managed well, cows can actually be restorative”.   Howell’s argument is supported by Allan Savory, Grasslands LLC Co-Owner and Zimbabwean farmer, environmentalist and politician. Savory is widely known for the book he wrote in 1988 titled, Holistic Resource Management. Savory is featured on a Ted Talk where he describes how holistic resource management (HRM) works and argues for HRM methods by describing its restorative nature and frames it as a climate change solution.

Holistic management is complicated and Howell states that “it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach”.  He says, “Recipes never work when you are dealing with the chaos and unpredictability of nature, plan is not a four-letter word but a 24-hour job”. According to the Savory Institute, a company owned by Allan Savory, “Holistic Management embraces and honors the complexity of nature, and uses nature’s models to bring practical approaches to land management, and restoration. The planning procedures embedded in the Holistic management approach are designed to incorporate this complexity and work with it. It does take time, skills and discipline to use this decision-making framework successfully – but the economic, environmental and social benefits are enormous.”

The most important argument stipulated by both Howell and Savory is that if all five billion hectares of grasslands around the world were to become holistically managed and organic matter in soil increased from three to four percent, to a depth of about two feet, as much as 54 additional tons of carbon per hectare could be sequestered. This amount of carbon sequestration would be enough to lower atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by 135 ppm. Gunther is totally correct in calling this a “big deal as a way to curb climate change that doesn’t require billions of dollars of capital outlays”.

The issue at hand for not just Howell and Savory, but our entire planet is willingness to change and willingness to pay in the face of global climate change challenges. What I mean is that if people in the developed world continue living the way we are living ignoring the fact that our ways of life are having an effect on the planet on a global scale then we will be the root of our own destruction. We need to stop thinking in terms of incremental sustainability and start thinking of actual, real world solutions such as HRM and other technologies that are designed for one thing, changing the nature in which humans interact with the one planet we are so blessed to inhabit and revolutionize global environmental stewardship. One might ask if not now when? Do we want to be known as the generations that created a problem, ignored it and failed to come up with any real solutions? How are we to ensure equality for the generations to come?

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