Low-carbohydrate diet and climate change

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that the forces arrayed against us meat eating, low-carbohydrate diet followers firmly believe the ‘fact’ that running herds of animals destroys the grasslands and ecosystem. And that’s not to mention that the methane from their belches destroys the ozone layer and worsens climate change. But is it true? Are we making a Faustian bargain, those of us who enjoy the health and taste benefits of a juicy chop or sizzling steak? Are we sacrificing the planet to indulge in our own hedonistic low-carbohydrate fancies?

As it turns out, large herbivores, the very kind we like to eat, if managed properly, not only will not destroy life as we know it, but will actually reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, sequester carbon in the soil, and reduce desertification. At the same time, large herds of densely packed ruminants, again if managed properly, will produce increased meat per acre and increased profits to the farmers and ranchers.

A win win if there ever was one.

In today’s post, I’m going to introduce you to my all-time favorite TED talk, a presentation that in broad brush strokes explains this seeming paradox of more animals equals better grasslands equals better climate.

I would have done this much sooner save for a couple of things. First, since I had yammered about it so much and practically horse whipped all my friends and family into watching it, I assumed every one had probably already seen it. Second, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a late adopter to anything new because I’ve seen the kind of damage action without investigation can cause. So, I held off until I was able to get some scientific feedback before I ran out and gushed about all this to the world at large. Now that I’ve had the chance to look into it more thoroughly, I’m ready to pass these ideas along.

Here is the TED talk. It’s by Alan Savory on the management of large herds of herbivores to prevent desertification. If you haven’t seen it, prepare to be amazed. If you have seen it, either watch it again (I’ve watched it probably 30 times), or skip on down to the discussion below.

Pretty amazing, right?

The presentation makes it seem as if all you have to do is move a lot of cattle, goats, sheep, whatever on to the land and Voila! crappy land turns into lush grasslands. Well, sort of, but not really. It’s more complex than this video makes it appear.

But also simpler.

When enormous herds of herbivores covered large swaths of land without any management (except for the carnivorous predators that kept the herd tightly bunched and moving), they made for great topsoil, rich in carbon, water, and a host of nutrients optimal for plant growth.

The Great Plains

When settlers first pushed into the great plains of middle America, they encountered herds of bison so large they went as far as the eye could see. These early homesteaders found rich, dark top soil, sometimes many feet deep, that proved ideal for farming. At the same time these farmers fenced off the range and started planting, the buffalo hunters began decimating the bison population, almost to the point of extinction. What first seemed a crop-growing paradise, ended up a few short decades later as the dust bowl.

Desertification had sent in. The bison were gone and so were most of the farmers. The plight of the bison and the tribes who had coexisted with them for centuries was captured perfectly by Vachel Lindsay, one of my favorite poets, in The Flower Fed Buffaloes, a poem written and performed as the desertification was happening.

Despite the deep rich soil in the Great Plains of the US created by the constantly roaming herds of bison, somehow the notion got started that decimation of grasslands and their conversion to desertified scrubland was a consequence of overgrazing. This thinking led to the removal of animals to help restore the grasslands; unfortunately, the removal brought about desertification even more quickly. But despite the obvious failure in outcome, no one could be made to believe that herds of herbivores would actually produce the effect they were removing these same herds to achieve. It was the same kind of thinking that said we should all cut fat and increase carbs to reduce obesity or cure diabetes. And had about the same effect.

What does cause desertification?

After the success of Alan Savory’s TED talk, he wrote a short book describing his methods in more detail. The Grazing Revolution: A Radical Plan to Save the Earth is a terrific short read, and, if you’re interested in this subject at all, it’s one you should read.

Says Savory:

My work shows that three management practices lead to desertification. In order of importance, they are:

  • Over resting soils and plants.
  • Overgrazing plants.
  • Burning.

Let’s take these in reverse order.

Burning the fields.

For centuries people have burned fields to convert weeds and scrub to ash, which was thought to both fertilize the soil and remove competition to the perennial grasses. Problem is, it doesn’t work. Burning exposes soil, releases carbon into the atmosphere, and gives rise to plants that are more fibrous, fire resistant, and less nutritious.

Overgrazing.

Since I’ve been talking about the benefit of huge herds swarming across the grassland as being beneficial, how can overgrazing be a problem? It seems like a multitude of large herbivores massed together moving over a piece of land would be the definition of overgrazing. Yet these large herds going through actually make the grasslands grow better? What gives?

Here’s the deal…

In nature carnivorous predators keep the large herbivores bunched together as they move along. There is safety in numbers for the herbivores, so they don’t stray from the herd. If they do, they become a meal. As these herbivores move through, they defile the land with urine and feces, as in defile it for the herbivores to graze. Because of the combination of the urine and the feces accumulation and the constant threat of predators, the herbivores move along at a pretty good pace. Which prevents overgrazing and fertilizes the soil as they pass by.

As Alan Savory writes:

The healthiest land I had seen was always associated with the largest herds — thousands of buffalo, elephants, and other grazing animals — accompanied by large packs of lions, wild dogs, and hyenas that kept them concentrated and needing to move off ground fouled by their own dung and urine. That movement minimized the overgrazing of plants.

On your standard farm or ranch, cattle (for instance) are kept penned in a field. They don’t just move through, they stand and graze. And graze and graze. They don’t give the plants enough time to recover from the grazing.

Over resting soils and plants.

The over resting is the most interesting part to me. It seems kind of intuitive that burning the ground and overgrazing might not do a lot of good for the turf, but over resting?

What’s the problem there?

I always thought letting the land lie fallow was good for it.

Well, turns out it isn’t. When herds of large animals move across a piece of land, they break up the soil and tramp urine, feces, and decaying organic matter into the earth. If the land “rests” for too long after the animals move through, it develops a crust that is difficult for rain to penetrate. It also prevents the growth and spread of plants. According to Savory, over resting the land is the worst thing that can be done. And that’s exactly what people have done for eons in an effort to improve the soil.

Where large herds of bunched grazing animals were replaced by scattered animals (wild or domestic), the land was suffering from partial rest — too few animals present, providing minimal vegetation and soil disturbance. In the absence of pack-hunting predators, animals scattered while grazing and trampled few or no plants, leaving the soil bare between them. In other cases, the animals overgrazed plants by lingering too long in a place, or returning to it too soon. In short, there was an imbalance — too much grazing or trampling in some areas and not enough in others. As a result, there was less forage to cover soil and feed animals. Scientists like myself, who had insisted on reducing animal numbers, had merely aggravated the problem. Fewer animals led to more ungrazed plants, which then accumulated dead, oxidizing leaves and stems that blocked sunlight from reaching new leaf buds and emerging stems at the plant base, eventually killing the plants.

But does it really work?

It all sounds good. Too good almost. But is it true?

That’s what I wondered.

I, like everyone else, have a strong tendency to the confirmation bias. When I see something like Savory’s TED video, I so desperately want to believe it, because it confirms what I already believe. Cattle are not harmful. Eating beef doesn’t destroy the planet. Etc. Etc. Etc.

As I mentioned above, when it comes to making medical recommendations, I’m definitely not an early adopter. If I have to prescribe drugs to patients, I much prefer those that are tried and true and have been around long enough to develop a safety profile. I tweeted about this just a few days ago.

I’m the same way about most things, including Savory’s ideas. I tried looking for other sources on his method, and I found both pro and con. The number of pro-Savory articles outweighed the con, but for years, so did the pro-low-fat-diet articles outweigh the low-carbohydrate ones. And we all know how that turned out. All the articles I found, though, were in the popular press. Nothing really scientific.

I did gain some measure of peace with the whole notion when a friend of mine wrote about his own experiences on his blog Roar of the Wolverine:

Savory’s way works, I know that for sure.  When I first bought my farm, about ten acres had been desertified by years of orange groves.  I live in Florida where the soil is mostly sugar sand and refuses to hold water.  After two years of having cattle grazing and moving the herd from one field to another, that land is now one of the most lush pasture land in the county.  When I had the property appraised, the county rated my field as a meadow (A difficult rating to get), but that’s how beautiful it is – and it was all done by cattle – I did nothing but move them.

What I find interesting about the Wolverine’s experience is that it jibes completely with what Savory says in his book. The best success comes when cattle are herded from one area to another, because this more closely mimics the actual life experience in which large herbivores are ‘herded’ by packs of carnivores.

Let me digress for just a second.

While we’re on the subject of the Wolverine, everyone, and I mean everyone, should read his story to learn a couple of things. First, never, ever take lightly an invasive medical procedure. If you absolutely have to have one, go to someone who does whatever it is you need done all the time. When you read the stats for procedures gone bad, it typically looks like only a small percentage of people have adverse outcomes. Read Roar of the Wolverine to find out what that small percentage of people go through. You will never be in that small percentage if you don’t undergo the procedure. So make damn sure you need it before proceeding. That’s what second opinions are for.

Second, you’ll learn how a good diet will see you through a lot of misery. And why you’ll have to fight your doctor all the way to keep your fat and protein up and carbs low.

Okay, digression over.

Scientific validation

I came across an  article in Nature, Emerging land use practices rapidly increase soil organic matter, published in 2015 showing that intensive herding practices rapidly improves soil quality and carbon content.

From the abstract:

…within a decade of management-intensive grazing practices soil C levels returned to those of native forest soils, and likely decreased fertilizer and irrigation demands. Emerging land uses, such as management-intensive grazing, may offer a rare win–win strategy combining profitable food production with rapid improvement of soil quality and short-term climate mitigation through soil C-accumulation.

Take a look at the before and after photos of a farm in Georgia:

The area shown had been used to grow cotton and peanuts for the past 50+ years and was well on its way to desertification, if not already there. After being converted to a dairy operation, it took a mere six years of intensive grazing to bring it back.

Here we report a rapid rate of soil C accumulation accompanying conversion of row crop agriculture land to intensively grazed pastures…

In our pastures, we find that peak C accumulation occurs 2–6 years after pasture establishment…

I recommend reading the article in its entirety as the link above is to the full-text version.

The authors pretty much summarize as follows:

The expansion of this emerging land use practice on previously tilled, row crop land may improve soil quality regionally and could mitigate climate change via rapid increases in soil C. Two daunting challenges facing humanity are feeding a growing population and curtailing the impacts of climate change. Alternative land use activities that reduce environmental degradation (for example, erosion, excess fertilizer and water demand) as well as provide economically viable food can provide a win–win scenario.

Our results demonstrate that pasture-based intensively grazed dairy systems may provide a near-term solution for agricultural lands that have experienced soil-C loss from previous management practices. Emerging land uses, such as management-intensive grazing, offer profitable and sustainable solutions to our needs for pairing food production with soil restoration and C sequestration.

Which is pretty much what Alan Savory’s work has shown.

I want to finish with an important point not really mentioned in the TED talk or in the Nature paper.

These conversions from desertification to lush grasslands don’t just happen by unloading a herd of grazing animals on the crappy land and saying, There. A fair amount of planning and work is required. The animals can’t be left too long, but need to be left long enough to do their jobs of fertilizing and breaking up the crust. According to Alan Savory, ranchers need to develop a management plan so that livestock can be moved according to the optimal schedule. Otherwise the operation doesn’t work.

What I find the most fascinating about all this is that although Savory describes the techniques for livestock management by rotating them from pasture to pasture on a proper schedule, he says the best outcomes occur when the animals are actually herded.

Human herding mimics the ‘herding’ done by large predators in the wild. That replicating natural herding creates the richest soil makes sense given that grasslands, large herbivores, and carnivores all co-evolved. Just as with diet, the closer we come to what the forces of natural selection designed us to eat, the better things work.

In my view, the best part of the whole intensive grazing process is that it makes more money for the farmers/ranchers than cultivating crops. And helps sequester carbon at the same time. So, if you’ve had qualms about noshing on steaks, chops, ribs, and roasts, because of what your meat-eating, low-carbohydrate ways might be doing to the environment, your mind should be eased. The more meat we eat, the more land will be converted from crops to cows (and other livestock), and since the most economically viable way to keep the meat supply flowing is by intensive grazing, the more properly grazed and herded meat you eat, the more carbon you save.

Bon Appetit!

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78 thoughts on “Low-carbohydrate diet and climate change

  1. Dear Mike,

    I was very happy to read your latest blog just now, a) because you haven’t written for a while and I miss your blogs, and b) for the very reasons you mention that we are often given the idea that meat eating is bad for the planet and going vegetarian would be better ! Thank you for the heads up on Alan Savory’s talk and for the rest of your blog with your validation of it.

    Any news on the reprint and updated Protein Power Lifeplan ?

    all the very best,
    Anne

    • Hi Anne,

      Nice to hear from you. Work proceeds apace on the new book. It won’t really be an update on the earlier book, but a brand new book. There will be some updated material, of course, but most of it will be new stuff we’ve been working on.

      • Really pleased to hear that about the new book, Mike, and very much looking forward to when it’s finished. Especially as it will also be new stuff !

        • I hope it will be worth the wait. A lot of new stuff, some of it very complex. The difficulty is in making it all comprehensible.

  2. I remember being stunned in Ominvore’s Dilemma to read the procedure that Salatin followed at Polyface to move the cattle around. It described the very bite in the life cycle of the grass that the ruminants took, and how much that mattered, to both the plant and the animal. I didn’t realize this was in essence a mimicry of the predator-herding process.

    Great post, as usual. Reading Wolverine’s story now…

  3. Thanks for the post, I always enjoy your writing. As one who grew up on a pretty large farm/ranch, it’s very interesting. I have seen that TED talk before, I will watch it again.

    I think I have seen you mention that you don’t buy into global warming / climate change? Is that so, and if so, I would love to know your take on the matter, as I greatly respect your opinion. If I erred, correct me. Sure seems to me that, at least, here, in the deep south USA, summers have become unbearably hotter over my lifetime… since the 1950s.

    • The issue of global warming/climate change is a complex one. It’s out of my area of scientific expertise, so I can’t really comment intelligently on the science involved, but I do know that respected scientists come down on both sides of the debate, so definitely the science isn’t settled. And I also know the oft-repeated ‘fact’ that 97 percent of scientist believe in global warming/climate change is bogus. What drives my skepticism is that I’ve lived through one similar scare that came to nought and have studied another, which also came to nought, in depth.

      In the 60s, a Stanford professor, Paul Ehrlich, wrote a book titled the Population Bomb. He lectured all over the country (including twice at my university) and was on every television talk show imaginable. His book became a mammoth best seller, and I (being young and ignorant) fell under the sway of his arguments. He was predicting widespread death and the destruction of civilization as we know in by the mid-1980s as the population grew at exponential rates, and I was right there with him, mouthing all his platitudes to anyone who would listen. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way, so I had egg all over my face.

      There was another similar scare at the turn of the 20th century that I wrote about in this post on the Haber-Bosch creation of the ability to extract nitrogen from air.

      Another reason I’m skeptical is that the whole global warming/climate change notion has more or less sorted itself out along political lines. Which is always a dangerous thing when you’re talking about science.

      So, count me as an agnostic at this point, but an agnostic who freely admits he is unschooled in the science involved. I read a great book not long ago about the evolutionary development of humans. It was written by a Harvard professor, and throughout the book, changes in human morphology were attributed to evolutionary pressures exerted by enormous changes in climate millennia ago. Apparently severe changes in climate are a recurring phenomenon, not just a once off caused by man. Which adds to my skepticism that this time is the time the world will end if something isn’t done soon.

      • In addition, Ted Danson in 1988 said, “We only have 10 years to clean up the oceans or we will not survive.” Algore has given similar 10-year warnings twice, and none of what has been predicted has even begun to get close to beginning to happen. Al Gore predicted that Florida would be underwater two years ago.

        • Yes, no one ever seems to remember those predictions. And despite them being so grossly off the mark, the credibility of the predictors hasn’t seemed to have suffered.

      • If you haven’t already, I’d suggest you check out Freeman Dyson’s views on climate change. Agnostic. And he does understand the science. Just not something we can understand at this time, and the steps needed to reduce carbon emissions have enormous human and environmental consequences that should at least give pause. Dyson believes the climate scientists have come to confuse their beloved but profoundly flawed models with reality. Sound familiar?

        • Randall Carlson is amazing! And brilliant! and he has a couple of YouTube interviews/lessons specifically on climate. (And a LOT of deep and broad geology; end of the last Ice Age effects and so on — I LOVE his stuff!)

    • Bill, Mike et al
      distinguish between pollution(localised largely man-made), weather (short-term, localised with many causes including man), climate (long term to very long term world-wide, biggest influencer may be the sun). Often changes such as localised warming etc. etc. is ascribed to climate when it is weather or changes in currents (sea or wind). The whole earth warmed (and cooled; with many local variations) long before industrialised man pumped out poisons.
      It seems that the world is entering a new “Maunder minimum” = mini-ice-age. Possibly started already, so in a few years scientists will be able to look back and exclaim see it started in 2017.

      • Actually, more likely, in 2014! There is an approx. 100,000 year cycle for the past 3.6 million years: ~90,000 of deep ice age, and ~10,000 of ‘interglacial’ — warm not-too-icy periods. We have just exited a 10k-year warm spot, and are sliding (fast!) into the next ice age. (John Casey — also has lots of great YouTube vids and a couple of very good books! — says it’s like the govt has told us to hop on this plane to Hawai’i, so that’s what we’ve packed/prepared for — and we’re going to step off this jet-ride in SIBERIA! (See also: Don Easterbrook.)

  4. Re: invasive medical procedures. Several years ago, I had trouble swallowing and had an endoscopy on my esophagus. During the procedure, it felt like my throat was tearing, and I ripped out the tube and left. The nurse had the nerve to call me back and act as if it was my fault, even though tearing was one of the risks mentioned in the disclosures. I found out some years later, from your blog, that my acid reflux was the result of a high-carbohydrate diet, something gastroenterologists never brought up to me.

  5. Thanks. I had Savory’s TED talk mentally tagged as unverified, but your additional research resolves the question in my mind.

  6. Another example is Polyface Farm in Virginia- see

    http://www.polyfacefarms.com/

    The founder, Joel Salatin, devised a system of portable electric fences to herd and move his cattle, and a system of moveable chicken pens. By moving the chickens onto the area vacated by the cattle, the chicken get rich food by foraging on the larvae growing in the cattle manure. He found that a three days lag is optimum – the larvae have grown the most in this time. So the cattle and chickens constantly rotate aver the farm.

    I once talked with a woman in North Carolina who devised a generally similar system on her small farm. During a serious drought a few years back, she was visited by state (or maybe county) farm agents to advise her on managing during the drought. But instead they were amazed by the excellent condition of her meadows and said that they had never seen a farm in such good condition.

  7. If you ever have the chance, you need to visit Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Swope, VA. His family has been operating their farm, since the 1960s, using the methods described by Alan Savory.

  8. Hi!
    The first I’d heard of cattle herding feeding grasslands was via a talk by Dr. Peter Ballerstedt on dietdoctor.com. Alan Savory’s talk predates Dr. Ballerstedt’s talk by some years, but Ballerstedt’s talk focuses more on LCHF and ruminants, rather than Savory’s emphasis on stopping desertification. The difference in emphasis only stresses the need for a good strong rethinking of the unbelievably still-popular mythology. Thanks for posting this–I was one of the ones who hadn’t already seen this talk.

  9. Specious argument – LCHF has tremendous benefits. Climate change on the other hand is irrelevant and a non issue with respect to LCHF diet. Animal husbandry and environmental stewardship are extremely important. Conglomerated animal-for-food mass operations are not good for the animals or optimum for the humans doing the consuming – not to mention the vast spill pits of manure say from the enormous porcine (or poultry) operations.

  10. Hi Mike.
    Thanks for this interesting apparently “off-topic” discussion that is spot on.
    A number of points of interest:
    In my school days some 60 odd years ago we were taught about the English serfs using a 4 year crop rotation comprising grain, vegetables, and animals (chicken sheep whatever) plus 1 year fallow. This seems similar.

    African trees “talk” to adjacent trees – pheromones are released when grazing animals (e.g. giraffe) start to chew on a tree leaves. The leaves become unpleasant tasting, the animal moves on. Your herding factor by another means.

    US is (I understand) the largest grain producer – all those horrible carbs – largely because grain production is gov subsidised and many have been brain-washed in pursuit of profit. What happens when the subsidies are reversed? Well for 1 we will know that gov and gov agencies are serious about the voters health. Huge change in farm food supply.

    Sometime back at the LCHF conference in Cape Town (Feb 2014) I discussed with a fellow devotee the problem of food supply to a largely LCHF population. The farms / farmers would not be able to meet demand from a sudden wholesale change. We decided that change had to take time (despite the continued detrimental affects on people) because the farmers would need time to adapt to the new demand curves.

    great article

  11. …more comment
    I read somewhere (unverified) that the quality of farm produce (carbs) has declined by up to 75% due to poor method intensive farming for profit = quantity. Quality decline is found in the poor micronutrients, polyphenols, minerals etc. etc. in the produce.

    Now, it seems to me, the farming method you described will improve food quality!!!

    that is probably the biggest winner of all, yes???

    • I would think so. I hope more and more adopt this method quickly. Fortunately, the profit motive should move things along.

  12. Hi Mike,

    Yes, it’s been a very long time but your latest epic post certainly necessitates belated greetings from down under.

    I’m delighted in many ways by your contribution to the diet wars which have morphed from the slowly growing acceptance of low(ish) carb to ‘if you are serious about saving the planet you absolutely must be a vegan’ which is beyond irritating and as you point out, anything but true.

    Secondly, my aged memory may be leading me astray, but would I be right in thinking you are a relatively late adopter of the (to me at least) overwhelming evidence supporting AGW? If so … fantastic! 😉 (if not humble apologies).

    Thirdly not to rain on Savory’s parade but I’d be remiss in not banging the drum for the sadly late Bill Mollison and the very much still kicking David Holmgren who kickstarted the now world wide Permaculture phenomenon literally just down the road from here. Together with another late great Australian PA Yeomans, their messaging on the benefits of integrated livestock raising and rotational grazing and water management to build soil and permanently sequester huge amounts of carbon only emphasise that meat eaters can and absolutely should be a big part of the solution not the problem.

    I haven’t the time right now to go through all your links (I am proud to say I am walking the walk with a newly acquired acreage) but one other aspect you may not have explicitly covered is the question of what would happen if the whole world did turn vegan. In Australia at least around 70% of the land used to raise (grass fed) meat is not suitable for any other form of agriculture. So if you stop raising livestock the native alternatives would take up the slack. No bison here, but kangaroos which have recently been shown to belch methane just like cattle …

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

    • Hey Malcolm,

      Great to hear from you. Hope all is well down under.

      Re AGW, I guess you and I look at different sets of data. I wrote a lengthy response to an earlier commenter about my views on AGW/CC. Also, I should have added to that comment one of the best things I’ve read on AGW/CC. It was the transcript of a speech given to Cal Tech by Michael Crichton a few years back titled Aliens Cause Global Warming. It’s brilliant.

      I’ve already been informed by those in the biz, that Savory is a Johnny Come Lately in all of this. But he has been the one to be the public face of it and get the info disseminated.

      If the whole world went vegan, I fear we would be screwed.

      Keep in touch.

      • Ah Mike,

        I can’t say I’m not disappointed after your initial post lording sustainable farming and the associated carbon sequestration gave me hope.

        Since then I’ve read some of the comments here (and yours) which sadly seem at least 20 years dated but now with much less excuse to be (sorry, can’t sugar coat it) so ill informed.

        Different sets of data? Perhaps the last straw in the deniers arsenal – satellite measurements of the lower troposphere – has now been conclusively shown to be artifacts of errors of measurement which when corrected show warming even faster than surface temperatures
        https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/jul/03/bad-news-for-climate-contrarians-the-best-data-we-have-just-got-hotter

        I’m not sure why you suggest it is complicated – it really isn’t – we have known the basic radiative physics since before your civil war – that without the greenhouse effect the planet would be permanently frozen pole to pole some 33C colder on average. Couple that with the uncontested data that shows ‘we’ have increased the chief non condensing GHG by 45% in less than 150 years after hundreds of thousands of years of stability and one would be astonished if we weren’t experiencing the rapid atmospheric warming, the accumulation of heat in the oceans, the melting of ice and the rising sea levels that we are undoubtedly are.

        And it is notable that the ‘skeptics’ (an increasingly charitable description) have no alternative theory as to cause.

        Think about that.

        Yes of course natural climatic changes occurred long before Man was a factor. How do we know? – because climatologists have told us – the very same climatologists that can also tell you why the climate has changed in the past and that they have exhaustively ruled out those natural forcings (variations in solar output, Milankovitch cycles etc) in the current warming.

        I’m probably wasting my time but a few quick points. Michael Mann would have to be one of the most vindicated scientists on the planet. Not only has his personal conduct been extensively examined and found to be beyond reproach but his ‘hockey stick’ graph has been endlessly replicated by many many other scientists from a variety of different data sources – short list here and then only up to 2013.
        http://environmentalforest.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/enough-hockey-sticks-for-team.html

        He has also been successfully waging defamation actions for years – something that you probably know has a very high bar in your country – so the latest manoeuvring between legal eagles in the latest case are of little interest in that context.

        Misuse of science for political purposes is hardly an argument against the science itself, but those on the right or libertarians like yourself are by definition less inclined to accept science that might lead to the disturbing conclusion that the problem identified won’t be solved by market forces alone – but clearly such instances exist (eg the tobacco wars, acid rain, ozone depletion) and right wing politicians of the past at least (eg Thatcher, Reagan) have accepted this, so why not now?

        Michael Crichton? You have to be kidding. I imagine you have given a lot of talks about low carb and perhaps the statin wars over the years. How many times has someone come up to you afterwards and said something along the lines of … but I have been reading Gwyneth Paltrow …

        Anyway as I say, if you aren’t convinced in 2017 we will probably just have to agree to agree on the many things on which we agree 😉

        Cheers,

        Malcolm

        • Agreed. Except I wouldn’t put Michael Crichton in the same category as Gwyneth Paltrow. I doubt that GP would have been invited to speak at Cal Tech.

          • “satellite measurements of the lower troposphere”

            “Measurements” that have been “adjusted” and “fixed” by NOAA and other govt and academic folks whose very livelihoods DEPEND on the billions and billions of dollars being shoveled out by the govt(s)! Shades of ol’ whatshisname and ‘eating fat causes obesity, so eat more carbs!’

            Mike, just read about ‘aliens causing warming’ — Crichton was too brilliant! Thanks for the great link!

  13. A fascinating read. I had not seen Savory’s material before.
    More to read and mull over certainly.

    While I’m not a fan of Slate since it is not always balanced, however a little googling did drop me down on this page where a writer refutes and describes some failures of the technique. I haven’t gone through many of Savory’s and !Savory materials as yet, myself, but here’s one link of various claims. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2013/04/allan_savory_s_ted_talk_is_wrong_and_the_benefits_of_holistic_grazing_have.html

    I wonder where the problems actually lie in situations where the technique fails, where it could do better. Maybe different breeds hoof stock does better with this management. Some livestock are better foragers, some stock is more skittish, other such factors to consider.

    Have a happy Fourth!

    Janice

    • As Savory points out in his book, and as I have been informed by friends in the ag-forage biz, it has to be done correctly to provide all the benefits.

  14. I had a quiet smile about this article.
    Here in New Zealand intensive grazing of cattle and sheep is the norm. Farmers “break feed” by moving an electric fence forward every day and another fence behind the herd to keep it from going back on already grazed land, or rotate the herd from paddock to paddock every few days. The result is lush pasture and beef and lamb and dairy that is totally grass fed. Farmers have been doing this here for donkeys years so nothing new!

    • Yes! Here in the UK too – and the flocks of sheep are moved around by shepherds in a similar way.

      Those Militant Vegan Attack Hordes seriously need to stop watching sentimental Disney films and get out more. Talk to some of our older livestock farmers (and their fathers) and they would see little they didn’t already know in the work of Allan Savory, Peter Ballerstedt and Joel Salatin. History reinvents itself for a new generation.

      Most of the land that is grazed here can’t be used for growing crops, being mountains, marshes and the like, so it’s not like there’s an either/or equation.

      The same farmers, and large animal vets, might also tell you that they feed grains to animals specifically to fatten them, and that overfeeding grains, especially wheat, makes them ill in a curiously similar way to what happens to humans. Ours are often taken indoors for the winter (depending on breed and circumstances) where they mainly eat silage and haylage, maybe with the addition of some grains roughly in proportion to how they occur in whole crops, we don’t do the intensive grain feeding much. Then the manure is pumped or scraped out and put back on the land – there’s a big pile just down the lane waiting to go onto the stubbles after the harvest.

      As I write the combine is cutting the barley in the back field. It’s not the largest model, only about 500hp, and I don’t know the diesel consumption but I expect”rather high” would be approximately correct. Then the field will be cultivated and sown, and sprayed not a few times with expensive chemicals to slaughter millions of insects, slugs etc. all to produce more Holy Health Grains, or rape (canola) for the “heart healthy vegan” margarine. For this the farmers are “paid” subsidies – but they only get to hold the money for a while until it goes to Big Food in the form of reduced prices. Some years they are paid substantially less than the cost of production for wheat (and most years for dairy).

      An old friend was caught in the “farmer’s dilemma” – he needed a bank loan to redo a load of field drains so he could increase his income enough to repay the loan. The bank refused, so he sold up and became a millionaire. Sometimes I wonder why they bother 🙁

      Meanwhile someone else I know is in the middle of researching small mammal populations, and so far the results are indicating the highest populations in sheep fields. Do vegans not like voles or what?

        • Haha, I just remembered one of your posts about “beady-eyed vegetarians” who don’t think of fish or fowl as meat because they have beady eyes.

          I live in the middle of agriculture and ecology so see Lierre Keith’s work from the ground level, as it were. The small mammals are the reason for increasing populations of hawks, owls etc.

          Decades ago, PETA “liberated” a load of mink (not UK native) from a mink farm or three. This resulted in greatly reduced populations and local near-extinctions of many other species, including water voles – Ratty from Wind In The Willows, what could be more sentimental than that? – and it has taken a huge amount of human slaughter to control the mink back to where the original populations of local species have started to recover and ecological balance is being restored.

          Now they are supporting the suffering and premature death of humans too. Their dogma is not thought through at all on any level, yet their subsidiaries PCRM and CSPI are aligned with the Industrial Food/Pharma complex.

          There’s been pretty much a mainstream media blackout on the Tim Noakes Trial, let alone Gary Fettke, yet any low quality associational “study” makes headlines as long as it targets “red meat” or saturated fat, especially via “cholesterol”.

          Real Science doesn’t really get a look-in outside of Twitter and the blogosphere, and the more of it is generated the more money is poured into supporting and reinforcing dogma.

          My current prediction – eventually they will be forced to back down on saturated fat, then they will just turn to Neu5gc and TMAO to “prove” that it was really the meat all along

          “Well we were right, just for the wrong reason, sorry about that. Now eat up your grains and soy and “vegetable” oil” and take your drugs.

          • Pretty accurate assessment of the situation, I’d say. I hope it doesn’t turn out in the end as you predict, but who knows?

  15. I also was excited when I saw Savory’s talk. Thanks for the follow up and the news that Savory was correct!

  16. I found the Savory video about one year ago. Subsequently, I found a program on tv about restoration of the former dustbowl area through return (in some places) of bison.
    Our medieval European ancestors practiced similar farming culture in their villages.
    Tribes in Africa had been doing it forever, until they were interfered with (ahem).
    What works, works, whether then or now.
    Bring back the herds>restore the soil>restore health>solve world starvation problems.

    Thanks for your post, I hope it is seen far and wide.

    • Peter is a good friend of mine. He and I have discussed these issues multiple times. I love his talks.

  17. “So, if you’ve had qualms about noshing on steaks, chops, ribs, and roasts, because of what your meat-eating, low-carbohydrate ways might be doing to the environment, your mind should be eased.” Shouldn’t this be rewritten to state that your mind should only be eased if you’re eating meat produced by the intensive grazing methods explored in your article? Most meat isn’t.

    • Probably not most at this point, but if there is no market for meat, not much will be produced by intensive grazing in the future. The only way to keep the movement going is by increased demand.

  18. I have been aware of this argument for several years; it certainly makes sense, but you are battling Sierra Club, etc. Unless cattle ranchers can get political backing, unlikely to make any inroads. Need to get western senators on board. Feedlot states aren’t going to give up the (pardon the pun) cash cow.

  19. Remarkable what theory(ies) one can support and find to fuel one’s your case and stay in one’s comfort zone. Many meat eating is bad for your health, shown by meta-analyses and the care of the animals one eats is far from optimal. I suppose it depends which angle you want to push… an excess of anything is detrimental. Its not a game of either/or. Maybe time to think holistically and of a bigger picture with all the angles?

  20. I forwarded Savory’s TED talk link to a H.S. classmate who manufactures seeding equipment for prairie grasses. He cautioned me that Savory is well known and not to accept everything said as fact. I looked further and found this:
    http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2013/04/allan_savory_s_ted_talk_is_wrong_and_the_benefits_of_holistic_grazing_have.html
    Beware of the well spoken man who has special knowlege that will save the world. I was a freshman med student at the U of MN when Keys made the cover of TIME.

    • As I wrote in the post, I found both pro and con when it comes to Savory, which is why I delayed so long in actually writing about him myself. But I was persuaded by the study published in Nature, which was independent scientific validation, not an opinion by someone, whose credentials are unknown and probably absent, writing for the notoriously unscientific Slate.

    • The last line of the Slate article sums up the author’s bias: “In the meantime, the evidence continues to suggest what we have long known: There’s no such thing as a beef-eating environmentalist.”

      I wonder who “we” refer’s to? Maybe the tofu-loving human herbivores that already travel in lockstep herds?

  21. I’m extremely happy to see such a well-written article explaining this “no-brainer” solution to so many of our problems. And I’m very grateful to be able to share this with everyone. All they have to do is read it and they should be convinced.

    Coincidentally, I just finished listening to Allan Savoury’s two-part interview podcast on the Weston A. Price Foundation. http://wisetraditions.libsyn.com/32-allan-savory-part-1-holistic-management

    Thank you, Michael!

  22. Joel Salatin, mentioned below, has used natural systems to his advantage. Beyond just the cattle improving the soil, pigs, goats and chickens can be used to turn soil, eat brush and spread manure. The result in a more abundant and balanced ecosystem. The problem is that ranchers where I live (Midwest) don’t move their cattle and usually fatten up their livestock and chickens with corn and grains. (Hmmm….I wonder if corn and grains could also be used to fatten humans?) Anyway, the current system certainly damages the planet but is open grazing and 100% pasture-raised meat economically viable on a large scale? Cattle and other tasty herbivores would still need feed during the winter months when the grasses are dormant. But if saving the planet means eating more t-bones, I’m ready to do my part.

  23. As a medical anthropologist whose dissertation was a behavioral epidemiological study of a zoonotic disease found in sheep husbandry, I studied applied human ecology and went through a veterinary program in preventive medicine. As a consultant to the World Health Organization and several other international economic development agencies, I worked with pastoralists all over the globe. From the standpoint of the human ecological effect of animal agriculture, I must affirm Michael Eades’s position here that the impact of raising animals for food does not add more destructive factors to global warming or other environmental degradation. This is hardly a new contention and there are doubters out there, please read Veterinary Medicine and Human Health (1964), by the late Calvin W. Schwabe, DVM, ScD., which addressed the situation clearly.

    As one who also has struggled with chronic obesity, high blood pressure and now, Type 2 diabetes, I can also report that I now have this under control at age 80, thanks to Mike and Mary Dan’s tireless research and efforts on all our behalf.

    • Thanks for the informative comment. I’m glad to learn you have all your health problems under control.

  24. I was happy to read your opinion about Allan Savory. (for that matter, I was glad to find out about Dr. Ludwig’s talk in your previous post.) I had the same reaction to his TED talk as you: “I had yammered about it so much and practically horse whipped all my friends and family into watching it.” But besides Savory’s TED talk, I also proselytized about Elaine Ingham’s talk at Putting Grasslands to Work, which was a conference put on by the Savory Institute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMvpop6BdBA

    The reason I was took to Elaine was that I’m a gardener in suburbia and her work was a little more usable than renting a herd of goats to maintain my quarter acre lot once every other month or so.

    But there are many other good talks about what is being known as regenerative agriculture. One of my favorite is Gabe Brown whose motto is we want to sign the back of the check not the front. Another of his quotes is to a California farmer complaining about their drought with less than 15 inches of rain per year. He responded, “Really, that’s a drought. Well I guess we are always in a drought with only an annual average of 11 inches per year.”
    See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2IURGFk5Yw&list=PLxPg50h_huc5VtrMv6RLdMcNd-ecZ8ozv&index=3

    Two others are Ray Archulette and Gerg Judy.

    Please note that regenerative agriculture is not just about climate change and making the farm/ranch profitable, though both of those are wins. The other is water. As a retired water engineer, I have been hearing and reading about the increasing scarcity of drinking water, both surface and ground, since the 1990’s. During that time I helped several water districts deepen their wells to reach the lowered water table. We helped them find water sources miles away from their existing sources. These new sources were needed because of increased demand and the inability of the existing sources to meet them. Also, the eastern United States have been developing the same water use laws that the dry western States have had all along. Please watch the Gabe Brown talk above to understand the insanity of the present day agriculture concerning water. Drain tiles and then irrigation????? Is that how mother nature made the top soil in the great plains 15 feet deep?

    Finally, Ethan Roland gave a good talk about the several parts of regenerative agriculture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljuJhQtLYt8

    • Thanks for all the links. And thanks for the great quote from Gabe Brown about wanting to sign the checks on the back instead of the front. I’m going to try to make that my motto, too.

  25. Follow the money. I just read the article in Slate that claimed Savory’s ideas are wrong. Well at the bottom of the article is one of the sponsors of the article W.F. Kellogg Foundation. That’s just Gggggreat!

  26. Please don’t fall into the Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Gas fallacy. The Earth warm and cools following the Sun’s cycles. CO2 is a gas vital for life. All animals exhale it and plants take it up. The plants would thrive with more CO2. Anthroprogenic Global Warming is a “snow job” aimed at undermining our economy and country. It’s the latest attempt to enslave mankind in a new techno-feudalism.

    The Earth is presently entering a grand solar minimum, a period of cooling similar to the Maunder minimum, the “little ice age”.

  27. Harvest Update – after the 500hp combine finished the crop, a 200hp tractor baled the barley straw, and a couple of smaller tractors with trailers, and a loader, hauled the bales off to a nearby beef farm for edible winter bedding.

    The 400hp tractor with a subsoiler then ripped up all the tramlines. A 200hp tractor disked the field in two different directions then the 400hp tractor pulled a deep cultivator through.

    I expect the next crop will be margarine (oilseed rape, what you call Canola) in which case it will probably be sown (400hp tractor) and rolled (200hp tractor) then sprayed with smelly stuff, then fertilised and sprayed a few more times between now and next year’s harvest.

    They might decide to plough the field (400hp tractor) and cultivate it again (200hp tractor) but probably not bother.

    Now remind me again, how many cow farts is that little lot worth? Of more relevance, just how much heart healthy diesel will have been consumed?

    Meanwhile the cows say “Moo!” and produce a mass of scientific research papers. Oh, I meant manure, an easy mistake to make.

  28. Great blog Dr. Mike! I have read other people’s views which match Savory’s data–however they did not have the proof that Savory shows. However, even Weston Price mentions in his book that African tribes would clear areas of forest to plant their food crops, but would consider these plots of land exhausted and useless in three to four years time. They would then clear more land to plant crops. Yikes!!! Three to four years? How many years have our farmlands been drained of their life? And to say that cattle destroy the land doesn’t make sense even to a simple minded soul. If this were true, farmers wouldn’t spend so much time spreading cow and horse manure on their fields. It is modern “EDUCATED” man who is destroying our world, not the ancient cultures who instinctively knew how to live in harmony with nature. I guess this is why the Bible equates knowledge with sorrow!
    As for Wolverine’s experience, I have for many years avoided doctors and hospitals —using them only as a last resort. It was my own stupidity that let them scare me into doing whatever they said—advice that kept me fat, sick and in pain all my life, while making me believe that my problems were all my own doing even though I was following “doctor’s orders” ,which did not work! Now that I follow what my body wants, life is much better—too bad I waited ’till the age of 63 to get smart!