Editor’s note: Allan Savory is the recipient of the 2003 Australian International Banksia Award for the person or organization doing the most for the environment on a global scale. Below is Executive Summary of his paper on combating Climate Change.
Simplistic and counter intuitive as it may be, the fate of civilization today hangs on two slender threads – the correct management of livestock and the rapid development of benign energy to sustain cities and mass transport. Excessive emissions of carbon and other gases from fossil fuels are not the only causes of global climate change, nor are they the greatest cause of climate change, as popularly espoused. Humans began to change climate in ancient times through their actions that began to disrupt complex living communities, diminishing biodiversity and replacing the role of large herbivores and predators in the world’s savannas with fire. Ancient practices, continued to this day, ensured land degradation (desertification) and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and other gases from fires and soil breakdown. This process of environment destruction had destroyed many civilizations before coal and oil were discovered or widely used.
Essential as it is, stopping carbon emissions entirely will not alone solve the potential catastrophe facing humanity because a great part of what amounts to global environmental malfunction cannot be attributed to carbon emissions. If tomorrow we somehow achieved zero emissions from fossil fuels we still would not avert major catastrophe. Grassland and savanna burning would continue, desertification would continue to accelerate with soils increasingly unable to store either carbon or water and the climate would continue to change.
To avert disaster on a scale almost unimaginable a global strategy is required that addresses carbon emissions while effectively dealing with biodiversity loss and biomass burning to reverse desertification that is not caused by atmospheric carbon buildup.
Based on over fifty years of sustained work on the desertification aspect of global climate change, I suggest a strategy that offers hope in today’s confusion and lack of any clear and workable strategy at any level – local, governmental or international. This simple strategy may encourage others to improve on what I offer. The strategy suggested follows two distinct paths. A high technology (reductionist science) path to alternative sources of benign energy and a low technology (relationship science) path to removing harmful atmospheric gases, ending biomass burning and reversing desertification as major components of global climate change. As I will explain, ending most biomass burning and reversing desertification can only be achieved through shifting our world view concerning the management of large animals – livestock and wildlife.
While proposing a safe strategy I also argue that measures encouraging high technology solution alone to current legacy load of atmospheric carbon entail risk when such risk is not required. The strategy suggested in this paper sees an essential and vital role for high technology in our search for alternative sources of energy. However the suggested strategy also recognizes the extreme dangers of relying on some technological solution to ongoing biomass burning and land degradation (desertification) and the safe storage of legacy carbon. Most of all much of the suggested strategy treats Earth as the complex Global Strategy for Addressing Climate Change 5 living system that it is and which requires working with rather than against natural functioning of our environment.
Download pdf: A Global Strategy for Addressing Global Climate Change