Unmaking the Deserts, Rethinking Climate Change, Bringing Back Biodiversity, and Restoring Nutrients to our Food
Cows saving the planet? Why not? An idea that sounds preposterous begins to make sense when you take a soil’s-eye view of our current ecological predicament.
In Cows Save the Planet, journalist Judith D. Schwartz looks at soil as a crucible for our many overlapping environmental, economic, and social crises. Schwartz reveals that for many of these problems—climate change, desertification, biodiversity loss, droughts, floods, wildfires, rural poverty, malnutrition, and obesity—our ability to turn these crises into opportunities depends on how we treat the soil. Where do cows fit in?
Cattle, like all grazing creatures, can, if appropriately managed, restore land and help build soil. Rebuilding soil is only one aspect of this important, paradigm-shifting book. Drawing on the work of thinkers and doers, renegade scientists and institutional whistleblowers from around the world, Schwartz challenges much of the conventional thinking about global warming and other problems. For example, land can suffer from undergrazing as well as overgrazing, since certain landscapes, such as grasslands, require the disturbance from livestock to thrive. Regarding climate, when we focus on carbon dioxide, we neglect the central role of water in soil—“green water”—in temperature regulation. And much of the carbon dioxide that burdens the atmosphere is not the result of fuel emissions, but from agriculture; returning carbon to the soil not only reduces carbon dioxide levels but also enhances soil fertility.
The Rancher-to-Rancher project, which will support central coast California ranchers in setting up low-cost, risk-free learning site trials, held a demonstration April 12 on Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, where Joe Morris grazes stocker cattle.
Joe Morris explains the learning site idea where livestock are concentrated for a short period followed by a generous recovery period. In the background, the learning site has about 700,000 pounds of stocker cattle per acre.
Included in the article is a link to a presentation by Kristine Nichols that is a great introduction some soil health concepts from a simple, practical perspective that looks at the whole. Included in this presentation is a picture of Gabe and Paul Brown's ranch after it received 13 inches of rain in 24 hours, and there is no standing water.
Joe Morris, of Morris Grassfed in San Juan Bautista, California, is receiving the Clarence Burch stewardship award at the Quivira Conference this month in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I am honored to be recognized by the Quivira Coalition for this year’s Clarence Burch award, and deeply appreciative to all of our partners for making this possible,” Joe said. “Our work with fellow ranchers, environmentalists, and policymakers shows that land stewardship and consensus building can provide solutions to some of our most pressing challenges.”
according to a recent report by the National Trust in the UK. The report uses modeling.
"Research reveals that grass-fed beef is better for people and the environment. Feeding cattle on grass throughout their lifecycle is the most environmentally sustainable way to rear beef, according to new research we've commissioned."
"The results are contrary to recent thinking that livestock farming methods must intensify further in order to lessen carbon emissions to feed an ever-increasing world population."
"The debate about climate change and food often calls for a reduction of meat consumption and a more plant based diet, but this often overlooks the fact that many grasslands are unsuitable for continuous arable cropping."
"Grasslands support a range of ecosystems services including water resources, biodiversity and carbon capture and storage. Grazing livestock not only contributes to their maintenance but also turns grass into human-edible food."
Here is Tony Lovell's talk from TEDxDubbo, September 2011. He begins with an excellent explanation of why our brains can't cope with climate change, and does a great job of explaining the implications of the biological carbon cycle. Click the link if the frame below doesn't show.
The 2011-2012 Soil Carbon Challenge baseline tour has come full circle. I arrived back home in northeast Oregon's Wallowa County on the last day of March 2012, after 250 days on the road and 12,137 miles in the converted school bus as well as several side trips by car, plane, and train. It was a fantastic trip, and I'm deeply grateful to all those whom I visited for their participation and hospitality.
So far, over 60 people have participated in the Challenge, with baseline plots to measure soil carbon change, from California to Vermont, Mexico to Canada. I expect to be able to post the remaining baseline data on the map shortly. Here's a newspaper article about the last plot on this baseline tour.
Later this year I will be venturing out to do more baseline plots, monitoring demonstrations, and workshops. Advance notice, publicity, and scheduling are things I hope to improve.
Though the baseline tour has ended, the Challenge has forward momentum. It is open to additional participation, localization, and adoption. The monitoring and design are open-source and can be adapted and localized. As Joe Morris in California has recognized, the Challenge is a movement, or the beginnings of one.
The Texas Soil Carbon Challenge has been the biggest yet, fitting the state. So far I've done over two dozen baseline plots in this state, and I'm not quite done. The support of the Dixon Water Foundation has been wonderful.
The 2011 drought in Texas has been among the worst ever for a single year. In addition, fires have burned up huge acreages, including this ranch in West Texas (right).
From Vermont to here, it has been a wonderful trip, with many interesting places and wonderful people, many of whom are deeply interested and committed to improving biosphere function. It has been a pleasure to work with them.
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