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How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change TED Talk

 
pollinator
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This video is very interesting if not a little scary.   Planned grazing reverses desertification and it may be the only option on a Macro scale.  

 
steward
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Ruminants are the best tool for bringing back brittle grasslands, and there's a tremendous potential to sequester carbon this way.  I love when he says it's the best way, even if you don't eat the cattle.
 
Scott Foster
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Julia Winter wrote:Ruminants are the best tool for bringing back brittle grasslands, and there's a tremendous potential to sequester carbon this way.  I love when he says it's the best way, even if you don't eat the cattle.




I found the burning statistic amazing.  Burning 1 hectare of grassland is the equivalent of 6000 vehicle emissions. Just in Africa, they are burning a billion hectares a year.  I also find it amazing that all of the desertification is changing our climate on a macro scale.    I was not aware that the impact was this big.
 
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Greening the deserts seems to occur to people who think that deserts aren't doing the planet any good.  It couldn't be further from the truth.  The notion that if people can't live there, everything else that does live there, doesn't matter is not a very planet-healthy notion, is it?

A desert is not just a functioning zone all its own, which is crucial for the plants/animals/insects that live there,  but the hot air it produces that actually helps bring rainfall to the green lands bordering it.

--------
Mojave desert in California:

"Low humidity, high temperatures, and low pressure, draw in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico creating thunderstorms across the desert southwest known as the North American monsoon. While the Mojave does not get nearly the amount of rainfall the Sonoran desert to the south receives, monsoonal moisture will create thunderstorms as far west as California's Central Valley from mid-June through early September".  - Wikipedia

The Central Valley of California produces huge amounts of the whole World's produce.  It is what gives California the 6th or 7th largest economy In The World.  Change this, and food production falls, people starve all around the world, and changes the weather.

----

Gobi Desert:  The heat that is created by this area rises and meets the surrounding temperatures and creates green, farmable lands on its edges.  Without it providing the kind of heat it does, there wouldn't be the kind of rainfall in the areas bordering it.  

If we back ourselves out and look at the planet like a spaceship would, we could easily see how all of the different regions are connected, they live and breathe together, because of each other, and populations have grown around the areas that can support human life.  To yank one or two or three of these deserts out would utterly change the neighboring areas, and even the whole planet.

Is this what the ecological balance has been all about?  Humans know better than Mother Nature how to run the planet?   Haven't seen much evidence of that so far.

About the burning....cars spew out chemicals which are extremely more detrimental to the atmosphere...and the soil if you include diesel....than the smoke of burning wood and grass, which is a temporary event.   The particles created by wood smoke rise and disperse once a year, usually summer in fewer areas than areas where there are cars and industry.   Chemicals coming out of vehicles and industry, don't forget,  hovers over areas, can be trapped in a basin-type geology, because the chemicals are spewed into the air daily, not just once a year.
 
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First off, it took me two days to watch this video. I had to stop after "40,000 elephants" and mourn for the rest of the day.

Second,

Cristo Balete wrote:Greening the deserts seems to occur to people who think that deserts aren't doing the planet any good.  It couldn't be further from the truth.  The notion that if people can't live there, everything else that does live there, doesn't matter is not a very planet-healthy notion, is it?



Despite understanding this point entirely, it just doesn't work out for me in practice. When we bought our parcel in the desert my thoughts went immediately to stewardship. Basically, keep the ATV and dirtbike enthusiasts out, stay primarily on a few trails to contain damage, don't cut down trees or dig out "inconvienient" plants, enjoy the birds but don't put out feeders, etc.

After a couple years of observation though, my thoughts have changed. Open range grazing takes a massive toll without any doubt. We only saw up to 6 cows at a time, grazing through for 3 to 4 days before making it to the next property. Then another small group (or the same one) would come back through in a week. I didn't think this was such a burden to the land until the following year, when the rancher ended his lease and rounded up the heard. What a difference it's made! Grasses and flowers are growing all over the place. During the monsoon, it looks like a green municipal park. There are "new" plant species pushing up that we had no indication whould even grow here.

It would seem that the Sonoran desert to our south and the Mojave to the west have spread with the cattle to areas like ours that were never meant to be desert. (As "spreading desertification" is explained in the video.) My thoughts on land-care now align with restoration. This area is severely damaged by human hand, and will not heal on it's own.

I don't think that Savory or any other ecologist would table that the deserts are not of massive importance to Earth. But the unnatural spreading of them is a different topic altogether. I had a deep appreciation for this land even before realizing how deeply wounded it is, and certainly would not get it in my head to "re-green" it to make it more palatable to humans anymore than I would de-salt the ocean so I could farm on the beach. Walking the surface, meeting the animals, and learning the local cycles change one's perspective.
 
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The food productivity of the Central Valley in California is almost entirely down to the importation of water from far away watersheds and from deep fossil aquifers at enormous energy cost, and it creates some uniquely bad environmental fallout too (Google "Salton Sea".)  Deserts in their current locations and sizes are very often not natural at all; it's stunning how often human activity (usually and most often overgrazing) has created them or caused them to expand.  And that's before you even start considering how agricultural practices half a continent away (cutting down hundreds of thousands of square miles of evapotranspirating forests) may have affected rainfall patterns, resulting in desertification.

I'm not saying it's utterly impossible to distinguish "natural" deserts from human-caused deserts here in 2018, but I am saying that it's very difficult to do so with any degree of certainty.  We often don't know enough about what people were doing thousands of years ago, or where they were doing it.  And in quite a few cases where we do know from history or archeology or geology, the modern deserts weren't deserts 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 or 10,000 years ago.  
 
pollinator
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I think catchment swales on contour would effectively create lots of 'lush creekbed corridors', allow the flash flood rainfall to sink in vs just flood, decrease erosion (soil, biomass/leaves) and keep the fertility onsite. Nature will find it's own animals to do rotational grazing, but if we have to support herder we can do 45+ days rotational grazing after the paddocks have matured.
 
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Melissa Bracy wrote:Despite understanding this point entirely, it just doesn't work out for me in practice. When we bought our parcel in the desert my thoughts went immediately to stewardship. Basically, keep the ATV and dirtbike enthusiasts out, stay primarily on a few trails to contain damage, don't cut down trees or dig out "inconvienient" plants, enjoy the birds but don't put out feeders, etc.

After a couple years of observation though, my thoughts have changed. Open range grazing takes a massive toll without any doubt. We only saw up to 6 cows at a time, grazing through for 3 to 4 days before making it to the next property. Then another small group (or the same one) would come back through in a week. I didn't think this was such a burden to the land until the following year, when the rancher ended his lease and rounded up the heard. What a difference it's made! Grasses and flowers are growing all over the place. During the monsoon, it looks like a green municipal park. There are "new" plant species pushing up that we had no indication whould even grow here.

It would seem that the Sonoran desert to our south and the Mojave to the west have spread with the cattle to areas like ours that were never meant to be desert. (As "spreading desertification" is explained in the video.) My thoughts on land-care now align with restoration. This area is severely damaged by human hand, and will not heal on it's own.

I don't think that Savory or any other ecologist would table that the deserts are not of massive importance to Earth. But the unnatural spreading of them is a different topic altogether. I had a deep appreciation for this land even before realizing how deeply wounded it is, and certainly would not get it in my head to "re-green" it to make it more palatable to humans anymore than I would de-salt the ocean so I could farm on the beach. Walking the surface, meeting the animals, and learning the local cycles change one's perspective.



I think what Allen fails to mention is that there is a big difference in natural vs conventional grazing. Open grazing as you explain is not meant to be, small heard, maybe spread out, and slow moving... Beneficial grazing would be a larger heard that is tightly packed and moves quickly. The difference here being that an animal like a cow is not constantly on the lookout for predators, thus spread out and not in a hurry. Cows like this are picky when eating and choose the best tasting greens to eat leaving undesirables untouched. What he does mention is trampling which I do think s good. I agree though that this method may not be best everywhere and that individual ecosystems should be mimicked accordingly.  
 
Julia Winter
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^^The effects of Holistic Management on (human created) desert in Mexico.^^

Diego Footer has a nice page about Allan Savory here: https://www.permaculturevoices.com/rhodesia-to-long-beach-50-years-of-struggle-persistence-and-success-with-allan-savory-pvp055/

 
Julia Winter
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There's an IndieGoGo campaign for a new documentary that talks about how ruminants are essential for recreating topsoil in brittle environments, places where for months out of the year, the only moist place is inside a ruminant's stomach(s).  It seems one of the focus points of the movie is pointing out that eating meat doesn't necessarily kill the planet and going vegan doesn't necessarily save the planet.
 
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Cristo Balete wrote:Greening the deserts seems to occur to people who think that deserts aren't doing the planet any good.  It couldn't be further from the truth.  The notion that if people can't live there, everything else that does live there, doesn't matter is not a very planet-healthy notion, is it?

A desert is not just a functioning zone all its own, which is crucial for the plants/animals/insects that live there,  but the hot air it produces that actually helps bring rainfall to the green lands bordering it.



I completely agree with this sentiment after seeing how people treat the desert I live in (Intermountain Desert). Most often people completely trash it because they don't see the natural beauty of the landscape or the ecological richness of the organisms that live there. I hope that people in general will realize the difference between a desert that is naturally-formed and a human-made wasteland. It saddens me to see organizations like the Bureau of Land Management completely tear apart a sagebrush shrubland so that they can plant grass for cattle grazing, but they do. They don't consider the fact that they are creating more early succession habitat for opportunists like Cheatgrass and destroying organisms that take hundreds of years to establish.

I support greening the desert where it's the responsible thing to do
 
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I dont think that guy explains well how things work, I just dont understand how the dead grass just standing there should be eaten or burned....

Just listen to what he says at 10:36, how if you dont remove the dead grass this leads to shift of woody vegetation, which leaves bare soil which releases carbon?
What he explains make absolutely no sense, he wants to convince me succession is something bad and a process that emits carbon?

First yes, the grass will get tall, and it will be hard for it to grow after accumulating enough dead material, but then this creates a mulched land which is perfect for taller trees to grow, once they have the protection of that mulch, trees has the real potential to store carbon in their wood, grass will just pop, it will be eaten, or burned and thats it, the carbon is once again in the atmosphere, while the tree will grow and create big branches and roots, that really store something.

Also the pics he is showing look to me as if he compares the dry period of the year with the rainy period of the year.

Also on that pic:
we can see the cows on the barren landscape, what this should mean?

Also at the end the host asked him what he feeds all these animals when there is nothing to eat, and he got really frustrated explaining something about the sigmoid curve, and the things being technical, he didnt explain properly how you can have so many animals moving trough such poor place...

Here is what herbivores do in the absence of predators, they destroy everything, the landscape can cope with limited amount of grazing animals, otherwise they become pests.



The great green wall of Africa is build with trees, which means if you want to stop the desert you need trees, grass is too short to stop the wind.


 
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Borislav Iliev wrote:grass will just pop, it will be eaten, or burned and thats it, the carbon is once again in the atmosphere, while the tree will grow and create big branches and roots, that really store something.



Large prairie grasses put a great deal of carbon in the soil via their roots.  I agree with you that we can benefit from Nature's example, which is, in most climates, succession to forest in the absence of frequent fires and lots of herbivores.  I'm in a region which used to be prairie, but once the native peoples, the bison, and the periodic fires were removed, it is growing into forest.
 
pollinator
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If there are no herbivores or regular fires, forests will pop up, but not all forest systems are equal.

The boreal forest, as much as I appreciate it, is a coniferous desert. If you compare it to temperate hardwood/boreal forest transitional zones, the amount of biodiversity in the former, both faunal as well as floral, pales to stark whiteness compared with the life explosion of the latter.

As an aside, the comparison of the boreal biome with that of deserts shouldn't be surprising; needle-shaped leaves and waxy coatings are, after all, evolutionary adaptations to periods of intense aridity.

Also, forests without a successional pattern become artificially senescent, or older than they're biologically supposed to get. This is different from long-lived forest systems, whose ancient trees might continue to actually grow, accumulating biomass and trapping carbon, for centuries. Carbon sequestration drops off with the drop-off in biomass accumulation, as instead of growing trunk and branch, growth energy is relegated to seasonal growth related to reproduction.

And many of the food plants, in the boreal forests in my neck of the woods, anyways, are disturbance-related. If you want blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries, often all you need to do is visit a clear-cut or burned-over area in the following seasons.

I think what you see a lot of in these disturbance-free green deserts is the slow build of fuel reserves, just waiting for fire events to finally allow succession, with insect infestation to dry things out and push them along.

The point about the function of deserts in rain cycles is valid, but the point behind the greening the desert movement, as I see it, is to reverse the trend of desertification. This has been an issue since the first wooden plows, stone axes, and domesticated and feral goats and cattle. It might be well and good that we need some amount of desert. We don't need them to increase in size. We don't need the desert to swallow farmland so that more land is cultivated, for the cycle to continue, leaving us with dustbowls and famine.

The reason, as I see it, that prairie and grassland is more resilient is because the growth rate of individuals is so much quicker. A individual grass plants will attain maturity and go to seed before a tree seedling is a year old. In addition, the growth of the organism is stimulated by grazing, whereas browsers kill young, and even older but immature trees, by their browsing.

So I don't think we should be down on grasslands, nor should we only tolerate them until we can get them to "succeed" (I hate that word in this context because if you follow the logic of the appellation, closed canopy old-growth forest is the apex of that "succession," or the pinnacle of success, if you will, but some of those systems could be better from a biodiversity and carbon sequestration standpoint if they didn't "succeed") to a closed-canopy mature forest.

Honestly, the only argument, aside from some shared sentimentality about enormous ancient trees, that makes sense to me with regards to not gradually replacing most of the oldest trees with young ones that have more carbon sequestration potential, is the fungal argument. Ancient forests with long-undisturbed soil layers borne of centuries of leaf and limb litter house giant, ancient fungal colonies (are they described as colonies or individual, massive organisms, I forget), and these, I think, need to be nurtured to foster health in their surrounding regions.

So I say don't worry about preserving the deserts. It would be good to be able to forecast what effect reversing desertification will have, and what effect increased desertification has had on weather patterns over the last few millenia, but I think it's most important to lock up carbon in ecosystems and in soil for now, and create resilient, food-and-soil-producing and anthropogenic change-buffering systems where there is only way too much desert now.

-CK
 
Julia Winter
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Borislav Iliev wrote:I dont think that guy explains well how things work, I just dont understand how the dead grass just standing there should be eaten or burned....


If a grass plant in a dry brittle environment is not eaten or burned, the top of it dies in the dry season and shades out its own new growth in the spring.  If the grass plant is grazed, the sprouts come up out of the ground when the rains return and aren't shaded out.  If the grass plant burns, again, green shoots show up when rain returns.

First yes, the grass will get tall, and it will be hard for it to grow after accumulating enough dead material, but then this creates a mulched land which is perfect for taller trees to grow, once they have the protection of that mulch, trees has the real potential to store carbon in their wood, grass will just pop, it will be eaten, or burned and thats it, the carbon is once again in the atmosphere, while the tree will grow and create big branches and roots, that really store something.


Some of the best carbon sequestration on the planet was in the deep, deep soils of the prairies of the American Midwest.  Rich black soil formed from thousands of years of perennial grass roots going down 3+ meters.  Forests store carbon in the bodies of the trees.  There are places on the planet that aren't conducive to forest.  If you destroy the grassland, you get "desert." (I put desert in quotes because it's not the same thing as natural desert.)

Also the pics he is showing look to me as if he compares the dry period of the year with the rainy period of the year.

Also on that pic:
we can see the cows on the barren landscape, what this should mean?


I believe a common practice is to lay out hay (dry grass harvested from some other place) to initially feed the cattle, if there is nothing growing on site.  So, you start by importing carbon to the barren land.  The cattle process the hay into manure and urine and often no seeds need to be planted (especially if your hay is local).

 
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As a climate actavist we are at a point where we need drastic measures.  Humans are part of the system and we must engage with it.   Desert indiginous people had/have elaborate systems for storing water and would never have allow the deep pitted arroyos of the american southwest.  Deserts are most deffinatly important ecosystems that are critical to the worlds weather patterns but it is a colonial mindset to just "leave the wild aloun."  Human interaction with the landscape is much more acient than plow agriculture and we all need to be mindfully engaging.   Mimicing pre-agriculture living systems like large heards is a way to start.
   I apreciate Savorys work for pushing the animals are needed to reverse gloval warming.   Many of the numbers for animal effects on climate change look only at feedlots and intense paddock grazing.  Corn diets produce something like 30 times the methane (need a fact check).  But overlook how many ways integrated animals make the system more healthy.  I have stopped eating commercial beef and and trying to switch to all local  meat, I think instead of vegitarian diets  we should just boycott anything on styrofoam to start.  If thats is your only concept of meat, your correct, this is wrong.  If we turn grass into protien instead of mowing it and stop seeing the other being we share this earth with as dollar signs and instead a beautiful part of the system we would be headed in a much better direction.
 
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These are some people who are doing well, using grazing to restore their land:





 
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This looks very promising.  It really seems to match of with a lot of what has been taught at the soil sciences, no till and intensive grazing classes over the last few years and it goes well beyond them.  It also matches with with a bunch of the water conservation and holding from Sepps information.  Superficially even the science on stored carbon makes sense.  I just spent a rainy day digging deeper into this and the farther I go the more it is matching other stuff.  It even matches the history of this area as to when the degredation started.  The area I live in has hills that very little grows on.  Cactus, a little really short scrub greasewood etc.  Mostly it is bare dirt.  But verbal history has it that when they first brought cattle to this area it was grass as deep as a horse's belly.  Over grazing and drought were what has always been blamed for the change.  But killing off all the predators and the eliminations of big herds of wildlife happened at the same time.  And cattle were area grazed so they were not doing the concentrated herd thing so it is easily possible that it could all match up.  Here are 2 more videos on the same topic.  They have a lot of overlap with the first video but each provides more essential information too.




 
C. Letellier
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Should also cross link to this permies thread.

book thread
 
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