Next in our series of the “Curious Case of the Vegan War on Regenerative Ag,” we take a close look at a video created by vegan YouTube celebrity Earthling Ed who attempted to debunk the work of Allan Savory.
Long story short, you’d be happy to know that he failed in that respect in epic proportions.
To make a short story a wee bit longer, a very special guest of ours wrote an outstanding defence of Savory’s work, as well as a solid critique of the pathetic attempt to “debunk” Holistic Management, specifically addressed to Earthling Ed. We added more thoughts below.
Take it away, Sarah.
Hello, my name is Sarah Savory, I am Allan’s daughter – I just wanted to help you to clear a few things up as you seem to be struggling with this subject and appear to just be making stuff up in order to suit your narrative rather than fact-checking for yourself.
First, it’s very silly to try and debunk something you haven’t even vaguely begun to understand.
Allan isn’t a livestock farmer, never has been. His entire life has been dedicated to saving wildlife by finding out what it is about our management that causes biodiversity loss and land degradation.
Holistic Management is a decision making process. It is nothing to do with livestock – the holistic planned grazing process and correct timing and impact of animals is a new biological land management tool within this decision making framework that can be used, in the right situations, to regenerate land for wildlife.
Holistic Management doesn’t involve any grazing system. Grazing systems don’t work – Allan figured that out 60 years ago and will be the first person to help you debunk them and to tell you that they are not ecologically regenerative in the long term – all the studies you site have only reviewed grazing systems, which are not in any way similar to what a holistic planned grazing process is. The holistic planned grazing process ensures that the management herd is mimicking nature by always flowing with the ever changing ecological, social and economic variables going on on the land all the time. No grazing system does this. I’m happy to share the planning process we use with you if you’re interested. Here in Zimbabwe we plan the herds movements around all the wildlife movements, even including things like the guinea fowl breeding periods, etc – it’s fascinating.
Nobody who has tried to debunk Allan’s work, including you, have ever actually reviewed his work or understood the Holistic Management Decision Making Framework – you’ve all gone and reviewed livestock grazing systems which have nothing whatsoever to do with the work. In the 1980’s, the Holistic Management framework was rigorously put through the test over 2 years by over 2,000 top scientists in American land management agencies, as well as from USAID, World Bank and major universities in the US – they could not make it fail. What stopped it moving forward was institutional stupidity and paradigm paralysis. Nobody knows how to solve that problem. Here’s a link explaining why humans struggle to get new knowledge into mainstream science:
The other thing is that, before doing a video like this, it is very important to be ecologically literate and know how the earth’s four ecosystem processes must be functioning and also to understand how differently they react to the same influences at either end of the brittleness scale. If you understood this and knew how the world’s grasslands developed (in an incredible symbiotic relationship with herding animals and their pack hunting predators) and how there simply aren’t the numbers needed to do the job of keeping the land healthy anymore, you’d begin to understand the vital need for the tool of the correct timing and impact of animals using holistic planned grazing. You certainly wouldn’t blame livestock for impacting soil – that’s a symptom of the incorrect TIMING of animal impact and is 100% due to our management.
Just have a look at the devastation in our National Parks thanks to our management:
For those on here actually interested in the truth instead of this bs:
What Allan has actually discovered is that human management is the root cause of land degradation. Our physical and financial stability depends entirely on the health of earth’s ecosystems. He has developed a management framework that enables anyone (from individuals to governments) to make decisions or develop policies that successfully manages the social, economic and ecological complexity our decisions impact and ensure that they have the best possible ecological outcome while simultaneously considering the unique social and economic circumstances the decision is being made in at any given time.
When we adjust our management and begin using the Holistic Decision-Making Framework, we learn how to develop and use a Holistic Context as a “magnetic north” to guide all our decisions. A Holistic Context is a statement describing the quality of life we want for ourselves, which we tie to a description of what the health of our environment must look like far into the future in order for us to have the quality of life we desire, and to ensure physical and financial security for ourselves and for many generations to come.
Then, before making any decision or taking any action, we run through several ‘context checking questions’ that we ask ourselves to help us determine whether the action being considered will be simultaneously socially sound, economically viable and ecologically regenerative in our particular situation at the time of making the decision. We also use the testing questions when we want to compare a couple of potential decisions/practices/actions/enterprises in order to figure out which one of them will be the most appropriate.
This is a generic example of what a National Holistic Context developed by citizens of a country might look like:
“We want stable families living peaceful lives in prosperity and physical security, while free to pursue our own spiritual or religious beliefs. We want access to nutritious food and clean water. We want to enjoy good education and health. We want to be living balanced lives, with time for family, friends, community and leisure for cultural and other pursuits.
All this is to be secured, for many generations to come, on a foundation of regenerating soils and biologically diverse communities on our land and in our rivers, lakes and oceans. This will be brought about by the humane treatment of all life and by being tolerant and non-judgmental, ensuring mutual respect and support as we live with each other and, our environment, in harmony.”
There are seven filtering context checks used in holistic decision making. Each check incorporates one or two questions to ask yourself prior to implementing a decision to ensure that the decision is economically, environmentally and socially sound relative to your holistic context.
I invite anyone reading this, especially the maker of this video to stop looking at reductionist grazing systems and come and see results of Holistic Decision Making and the holistic planned grazing process for yourselves before making wild claims about something you haven’t understood.
These poignant thoughts echo our own. However, we would like to expound a bit more on Earthling Ed’s poor attempt to debunk not just Holistic Management, but regenerative grazing as well.
While Ed didn’t even pass the grade in trying to define Holistic Management (HM), we can at least give him a tiny amount of credit for trying to understand soil carbon and its relationship with grazing animals. The operative keyword here, folks, is “trying.” It’s not like he successfully explained any of this without sounding like yet another vegan parrot.
At least he did a good job with the format of the video.
An Epic Failure to Truly Understand Holistic Management and Grazing
If someone is going to sit in front of the microphone and tell their YouTube audience that the definition of HM is “rotational grazing, grazing a large number of animals in a mob,” they’ve just set themselves up for a major loss in credibility and integrity. (As if Earthling Ed had any credibility among the Ethical Omnivore / regenerative agriculture community! What a funny thought.)
Seriously, it basically made his entire video a complete waste of time.
Naturally, because Ed already set the stage with this ill-conceived notion, he couldn’t help himself but use that as his main point in order to try to debunk the work of Allan Savory. If only he knew that this was just asinine nonsense purported by a variety of academic institutions who started the anti-HM shit show in the first place. Ed’s just a faithful follower leading the blind.
However, that was not the first major mistake he made. No, no! The second big mistake was in showing his hand that he knew nothing about grazing management.
Just how did he do that?
Oh, it’s quite simple, really.
All he had to do was wave the Grazed & Confused report in our faces. He also couldn’t help but pull the “rewilding” and “veganic agriculture” cards out from his sleeve, among a few other predictable things I’ll talk about in a minute.
This is a far too common mistake I’ve seen with people like Ed (and others we’ll be discussing in this series) in their attempts to debunk or demonize regenerative grazing. These people know so little about grazing management that they are unable to distinguish the differences between good management and poor management.
I don’t know if it makes their heads hurt too much to think about the complexities involved with looking at grass and moving animals at the right time (to the right place) for the right reasons, but it seems to me that they get too lazy and lump all grazing together in one basket and label it “bad for the planet.” It’s so, so easy to do. Am I right, or am I right?
That’s the sense I got when I watched (and re-watched) that 7-minute video of Ed’s above.
A significant focus in that video was on soil carbon; or, carbon sequestration. But that was in large part to that Garnett et. al. report which we here at EOM (penned by yours truly) thoroughly debunked already. I highly recommend reading it through.
Both Ed’s full support of such a ridiculous waste of file space and the asinine veganized concepts of “rewilding” and the mythical “regenerative veganic agriculture” model doesn’t serve him well if he intends to educate the public. Tell me, how can you educate the public and debunk a man’s life-long work on things that you have next to zero comprehension about?
The answer is, you cannot. You only contribute to the spread of misinformation. Particularly when it comes to the old and outdated science of soil carbon.
A Misunderstanding of Soil Carbon Capture Potential
As one of the few who took the time to read the 127-page meta-analysis report (and continues to keep a file on her hard drive, shocker), I can confirm for a fact that the report completely failed to acknowledge the biological and ecological aspects of the soil. If you are doubtful of that, please read the linked post above. Or, take a look at the Garnett et. al. report yourself.
This is very important to realize. It sets the stage for how Ed was able to spread misinformation in his video about carbon sequestration and soil health. (It also kinda made him look a little dumb… just saying.)
See, Garnett et. al. used 300 academic research as their basis to “debunk” the soil carbon capture potential of grazing herbivores. Almost all those studies used outdated soil science. No studies were used with more updated, biologically-accountable soil science.
Thus, most of the values that they used (including that only 20 to 60% of carbon is offset via grazing) in their meta-analysis were based on ivory tower computer models; not real-life data. Also, these values completely ignored the biological contributions to soil carbon capture. They only reflected the geophysical and chemical aspects of soil properties.
Supposedly, according to Garnett and thereby Earthling Ed, such a low amount of carbon that is offset by… whatever it was that Ed failed to mention, contributes to this “significant surplus” of carbon in the atmosphere. Following that logic, Ed proceeded to bolster the claim that livestock–grazing ruminant herbivores–simply cannot contribute to carbon sequestration.
Except for that historical records of North American grasslands shows us that this is simply not true. What is true is that we have absolutely no clue as to how much soil organic carbon can actually be captured. Nature doesn’t follow computer programs, folks!
History has proven to us time and time again that grazing ruminant herbivores most certainly can and have contributed to carbon sequestration, and in a big way. We just need to look back on the records of prairie topsoil depth of almost 200 years ago.
When early settlers first settled on the prairies, they were set to break the sod with their horses (or oxen) and plows. They, and other explorers, couldn’t help but remark how incredibly black, deep and rich in humus that prairie soil was. There were some reports that prairie topsoils were at least 6 feet deep before hitting subsoil layers.
SIX feet deep! Not six inches, Ed, six FEET. As deep as an average man is tall.
Now I ask, how did such soils get such deep topsoil? Nope, not with trees.
Still stuck? I’ll give you three hints. They eat grass, leave big flat poop piles behind and have hooves.
Yep, that’s right; grazing ruminant herbivores! Who would’ve thought?
Vast herds of these grazing ruminant herbivores ate, trampled, pooped, birthed, bred and died on those landscapes, helping with the complex ecological process of building soil. They ate what they would and pounded the rest into the ground with their hooves. They pooped on it. They lived and died on it.
Not only that, but a vast complex community of micro-organisms at and beneath the soil surface also made major contributions to the biological soil-building process. They ate; they pooped, and they lived and died in the name of the ecological life cycle. Their bodies got incorporated back into the soil; like the bison and the elk and the deer and the wolves and the bears and peoples of the grassland, they too were born from soil and became soil upon their deaths.
And there are the plants. Prairie grasses that grew well over 6 to 8 feet tall. Settlers wrote about how the prairie stretched for miles and miles, that it was a “sea of grass” waving in the wind. Billions and billions of green photosynthetic solar panels with roots that reached deeper than those plants rose tall. Fibrous roots; and, with other plant species living in the same community, these roots captured sunlight and fed the soil micro-organisms, while the leaves fed the bison, mice, prairie dogs, elk, pronghorn, and other critters.
Such a massively beautiful and complex ecology is somewhat still alive and well today, but not like what it was 200 years ago. You can find examples of this in natural areas that still maintain large ruminant herbivores, or regenerative, holistically-managed farms and ranches. You’d best be off to visit the latter.
Because of this history, it is only out of sheer dishonesty–or simply a complete travesty of not understand basic ecology–that someone like Ed can parrot the claim that, “it’s impossible to sequester so much carbon with grazing ruminants.”
No, amigo, it’s not impossible; not when history proves otherwise. What’s impossible is the leading of a horse to water and making her drink. Or, leading a man to knowledge and making him think!
It’s certainly not impossible when something like the effective decision-making tool being Holistic Management can bring about desirable changes in the landscape using management strategies that determine when, where, and how grazing ruminants shall graze. Grazing ruminants under the Holistic Context do not begin and end with cattle. They incorporate all other such animals, both wild and domesticated. As a result, all are contributing to and remaining an important part of the ecological whole. They are contributing to the four ecosystem processes: the mineral cycle (including carbon), the water cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics.
Certainly, HM is a form of mimicking nature, but there’s a damn good reason for it. I’ll get to that soon.
Soil Reaches Carbon Equilibrium? Really, Ed?
Taken straight from that Garnett et. al. report, Ed says in his video,
Soil reaches soil carbon equilibrium after a few decades.
The truth is, we don’t know that. Computer models may show this, but once again, a computer only understands the complicated mathematical formulas that are plugged into the coded software built into its system and gives us answers from there. That’s a man-made technological tool for you. But it’s not a grazing herbivore.
Always remember: Nature never follows computer models, nor does she read academic publications!
As mentioned above and according to historical records of the New World (a.k.a North America), we honestly do not know how much carbon we can sequester into the soil. We don’t know how much organic matter and therefore topsoil can be built over time.
This “soil carbon equilibrium” that Ed pulled straight from the Grazed & Confused report–without much thought to question it, mind you–is purely a reflection of outdated soil science that, once again, completely failed to incorporate the crucial biological component.
It is based on the assumption that poor management of grazing systems–not regenerative grazing via Holistic Management–continues business as usual. We already know that such grazing systems don’t contribute much in the way of building soil, among other ecological goods and services. They ultimately lead to further degradation that needs to be “fixed” using technological tools like herbicides or the plow and the seeder.
These quick-fixes–band-aid solutions, more like–don’t solve the primary issue being a management issue. Management is what determines how the landscape is treated. It’s not a “too many livestock” issue! Poor management, where overgrazing and under-utilization are rampant, coupled with the unhelpful fears of “wasting” grass and having too much livestock on the land, will guarantee that the soil declines in health and productivity. It also guarantees the lack of green growing, carbon-storing plants available to do any sort of carbon-capturing work that needs to be done.
What’s also problematic is Ed’s inability to understand basic ecology. I think that I already pointed this out before. He claims that “none of the emissions from the animals would be offset” with a painfully obvious disregard for basic ecology. Plants and animals work together in beautiful synchronicity where green, growing plants do something called “photosynthesize” and (usually) grow back after being eaten. These small yet quadrillions of green photosynthetic solar panels help capture the evil cow-fart emissions killing our planet and put it right back into themselves and the soil. Don’t mind my facetiousness but seriously, Ed’s video would be singing a completely different tune if he knew something of ecology beyond just summarizing a report from the (now former) FCRN!
Algal Crusts and Soil Compaction, Oh My!
It’s a no-brainer that soil compaction caused by livestock is a management problem, not an animal problem. Compaction can also be fixed with grazing animals. Sarah already provided an answer for that above.
But as far as algal crusts are concerned… they’re not as desirable as Ed has you believing.
An important thing to understand is why algal crusts are there. Simply, for two reasons: One, nothing else is growing there, and two, it’s Nature’s final resort to protecting the soil where nothing else will. These algal crusts are usually found in brittle environments; environments where severe overgrazing and desertification has occurred.
The only reason that algal crusts are able to stabilize the soil is that nothing else is growing there to help stabilize the soil! So of course you’re going to see a loss in soil fertility and an increase in soil erosion without these crusts. That is no different when the soil is devoid of plant life. Find a way to increase the plant life on the soil (best with fast-growing and fast-spreading plants that have fibrous roots like grasses) to not only protect it but also to further build on it.
As for algal crusts building organic matter, this pales in comparison to the ability of plants like grasses, in relationship with grazing herbivores, to build significant amounts of organic matter.
Not only that, but algal crusts aren’t great at contributing to an effective water cycle, nor allowing dormant seeds to germinate. The trampling hooves of grazing animals help with all that by breaking these crusts up.
“… Farmers Would Have to Graze… More Land, or Stop Farming.”
With regenerative grazing and Holistic Management, such scenarios are unrealistic.
The concept of “needing more land” comes purely out of poor management as I briefly mentioned above.
Continuous set-stock grazing is one famous example I like to use as the poster child for poor management. It’s lackadaisical “management” style is basically letting a small group of animals out to graze on a large piece of land for several months. Animals go where they want, and eat what they want. Places get severely overgrazed; others get severely under-grazed. Riparian areas and wetlands get trampled all to hell. With time, more weeds take over, less forage is available to eat, and overall pasture (or range) health declines. The reductionist solution is to remove the animals or increase the land area for the animals to graze. Logically, the less forage is available to eat, the more land is required to keep a number of livestock on.
Regenerative grazing and HM are management-intensive. Sarah has already made this clear above so I’ll not repeat what’s already been said.
Therefore, with HM, the concept of “needing more land” goes completely out the window. Particularly when this paradigm-shifting decision-making tool contributes to the increase in the amount of forage on the land for animals to eat.
I’ve talked to several producers who have incorporated HM into their operations and they literally told me that their change in management gave them more grass than they could have ever dreamed of. “It’s like buying another farm for free,” they told me.
As for “stop farming,” realistically there’s too much farmland tied up with the production of crops for biofuel and oil; not to mention feed for CAFOs. If and when we reduce our heavy reliance on such “green” fuel products and unhealthy oils, and slowly convert towards more pasture-based production of meat, milk, wool, and eggs, much of that land can (and should) be converted back to some form of pastureland, be it grassland or savanna or forest-meadow-combinations of some form or other.
What’s so wrong with that, Ed?
Oh, that’s right, it’s not vegan enough. It’s so problematic when almost a quarter of agricultural land is, according to Ed, “already taken by livestock grazing systems.” Yeah, that’s a quarter of the world’s agricultural land that isn’t being managed properly; and which supports no better enterprise except for grazing livestock! Quite frankly, I think we can do with a lot more grazing land than just 26 percent… but that’s just me. (No deforestation required.)
Oh yes, and such animal-inclusion regenerative enterprises aren’t as vegan-appealing as these fantasy-land theories that use buzzwords like “veganic ag” and “rewilding.”
Time for some more devastating truth bombs.
Of “Regenerative” Veganic Agriculture and Rewilding
We had a good chuckle when Earthling Ed pulled out the two magic “regenerative veganic agriculture” and “rewilding” cards.
We also have a burning question to ask: Where’s the proof? Where, Ed, have you shown undeniably and inarguably in any of your content that this regenerative veganic agriculture you speak of actually works? Or are you just famously blowing smoke up all our asses just to get more upvotes and ego-stroking comments from your faithfully blind supporters?
Seriously, all Ed did was just give a nice little positive mention about this regenerative veganic agriculture like it was an unshakeable truth which we should all strive for.
Too bad it’s not set in reality.
Someday we’ll expand a whole lot more on this silly figment of the imagination in another post. For now, though, all I will say about it is that it’s the antithesis of nature.
While nature functions in wholes, it also functions with both plants and animals. The two cannot exist without the other, just like life and death. There is no vegan ecology; there is no animal-less ecology.
Not only that, but there is no ecology where the “least harm as much as possible and practical” escape clause card is used. True ecology, even that of the farm, is where it’s to eat or get eaten. Everything from microbes to bugs to mammals large and small is going to eat plants and/or one another. There’s nothing vegan about that.
We, humans, are an intricate part of that ecology. It’s utter foolishness to think we’re separate or excused from it. Our sheltered, civilized lives haven’t helped garner this reality, but it’s there, just outside our doorstep.
Because regenerating soils involves life and death, the biological necromass to build soil, regenerative veganic agriculture does not exist. Nay; it’s impossible to conceive, in a realistic sense.
Any vegan who starts snivelling to us about how veganic agriculture is real, we’d love for them to name one farm that is legitimately practicing this “regenerative veganic farming” that Ed mentioned in his video. Just one. Or maybe two…
I highly doubt such a farm can be made mention to.
What About “Rewilding”?
This is yet another concept that is unrealistic and completely out to lunch.
My question is, how do we “rewild” landscapes? By just leaving them alone? For some areas, that may work. But for other areas, such as those which exist in brittle environments, simply leaving them alone doesn’t do anything, or does more harm than good.
“If HM is about mimicking nature, why not return the land as much as possible to nature?” “Why mimic nature when nature can simply exist there instead?”
Well, Ed, that’s because HM encourages exactly that; especially if you knew what Holistic Management actually was in the first place!
HM acknowledges and incorporates the highly important human element into regenerative grazing and regenerative agriculture. HM helps us realize that landscapes are not the same without humans, and we humans are not the same without the landscapes.
Paul Hawken, the author of Drawdown, has mentioned that farming (and its people) must be made a part of nature, and not be separated from it.
Earthling Ed is making a huge and asinine mistake of separating people from nature by just questioning the concept of using rewilding instead of HM. The reality that sets in shows us that the two are not mutually exclusive. We cannot have interchange rewilding instead of HM when it takes HM to figure out how to successfully “rewild” our landscapes by “mimicking nature.”
No, HM isn’t just about mimicking nature. It is about understanding the fundamentals of nature so that the production of food is seamlessly incorporated into the blanket of nature as much as possible; it basically permits and empowers the people, the animals, the plants and the land to be a part of nature as much as possible. How can we live in harmony and actually and legitimately rewild landscapes if we continue to think that we’re mutually exclusive to and outside of nature?? Honestly, we can’t.
I have a question for you all: Has anyone else been able to successfully prove that rewilding landscapes can be done using reductionist management? What, nobody? Hm, shocker.
Seems to me that the only people who have successfully “rewilded” landscapes are those who practice HM and regenerative non-veganic agriculture.
Therefore, Ed’s solution at the end of his video is misleading, unrealistic, and misinformed, not to mention asinine.
The best way is to not “reclaim land destroyed for animal farming” but rather change the management and the minds behind the management. All so that livestock helps us with this “rewilding” of the landscapes, rather than continue to be blamed for problems they are not responsible for.
Here’s another big truth bomb for you: Animal agriculture is not responsible for destroying wildlife habitats. Reductionist management is. Reductionist management that has acted through industrialized agriculture has been the sole issue for the serious environmental issues alive and well today. We could say that cropland agriculture is to blame, but realistically, it’s all under the umbrella that is reductionist management.
Reductionist management is how oil and gas have been able to profit off of agriculture, particularly through growing and selling grains through livestock. It’s also the means to how millions of acres of cropland are used for the sole purpose of growing annual crops for edible oil and biofuel–animal feed being secondary. It’s to blame for a lot of things; it’s also a source where good-intentioned people like to think that rewilding is a good thing and must be implemented.
Yet, rewilding is just shining a light on the reductionist, simplistic thinking that has landed us in so much hot water to date. Rewilding is a nice concept to imagine. But in no way it’s realistic, not with current reductionist paradigms. It will only exacerbate current environmental issues rather than fix them. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Not like Holistic Management which is indeed set in reality and having great success on millions of acres of land.
Savory Institute & Holistic Management International: Proofs of Success
We cannot conclude this post without showing you all the incredible amount of proof that HM is, in fact, a concept that works; many farms are practicing HM with great success, and it’s a great start to show the world that feeding “the world” (or just people in general) this way isn’t a fairy tale.
Check out the success stories from HMI:
Then there’s the Savory Institute’s network of hubs, accredited professionals, and its Land to Market EOV program.
- Savory Institute Our Network
- Savory Institute Land to Market Program
- Savory Institute Land to Market EOV
Both the Savory Institute and HMI have programs that teach people about holistic management, and how to implement HM into their everyday management of the land, their businesses, and their lives.
Earthling Ed would be disappointed to realize that he didn’t even come close to debunking the work of Allan Savory.
Our next installment is on Mic the Vegan’s shit-disturbances about Ethical Omnivore Movement, among other things. EOM founder Lana Salant will have quite the say on that. So stay tuned!