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Holistic Management can reverse Climate Change

What the science says...

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Holistic Management is not a solution to the problem of increasing carbon emissions and climate change. Soils managed holistically show no significant boost in productivity or overall storage of carbon over a long period of time. Holistic Management offers no advantage over other similar grazing techniques in use today.

Climate Myth...

Holistic Management can reverse Climate Change

“Holistic management as a planned grazing strategy is able to reverse desertification and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide into soil, reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to pre-industrial levels in a period of forty years.” (Allan Savory, 2014)

Holistic Management is a form of grazing management that has become popularised in recent years by Allan Savory, founder of the Savory Institute. The management technique has been subject of international attention, mainly due to the infamous TED talk that Savory gave in 2014. Savory preaches that Holistic Management, applied to most of the world’s grassland, can increase productivity of farms and reverse climate change. His explanation is that livestock, grouped in large herds, will ‘mimic nature’ and increase plant growth because of this. The increased plant growth will then, according the Savory, be able to store a great deal of carbon into soil by taking the carbon out of the atmosphere, thus reducing the level of carbon dioxide contributing to the greenhouse effect. He claims all of this can be achieved in 40 years.

Quite simply, it is not possible to increase productivity, increase numbers of cattle and store carbon using any grazing strategy, never-mind Holistic Management. There are several factors which are important in controlling the ability of soils to store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A list of these factors, and their importance and relevance to Holistic Management, is listed here:

The Carbon Cycle

Processes such as photosynthesis, plant respiration and bacterial respiration are all part of the cycle of carbon in and out of the atmosphere. Levels of each process determine if the carbon is stored in soil, used or is released. Plants, for example, depend on carbon for growth. In photosynthesis, energy from the sun allows plants to extract carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for its own growth, producing oxygen as a waste product. The additional carbon not used for growth is stored in soil as something called humus, which gives soil its volcanic colour. The darker the colour of the deep soil, the increased level of soil organic carbon (SOC). SOC will be increased if the level of photosynthesis is high but is also dependent on the presence of soil microbes and nutrients. The level of SOC determines soil quality and potential to store even more carbon (Ontl & Schulte 2012, Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1: A simple version of the carbon cycle, related to how plants cycle carbon for growth, release, and storage. Source: https://ecosciencewire.com/2016/06/09/the-hurdles-to-carbon-farming/

However, stored carbon can also be lost from soils. Damage to soils, like erosion and increased decomposition, leads to an overall loss of carbon, where their potential of the soil to store carbon is outweighed by carbon losses. This carbon seeps from the soil back into the atmosphere, further increasing the greenhouse effect.

Carbon losses over time

Applying a new grazing technique on grasslands which have been mismanaged may indeed have positive results in terms of soil carbon storage during the first few years. But the main problem is that storage slows after the initial change, and over a long period of time (such as 50 years), the storage potential of the soil is maximised as it approaches an equilibrium (Nordborg, 2016). This effect is more observable in dry regions of the planet. This is because dry regions have lost much of their soil content, therefore having low carbon storage potential. They are at risk of completely drying out because of increasing temperatures and more at risk to the detrimental effect of mismanaged grazing (Lal, 2004).This makes it unreasonable to apply Holistic Management to such dry areas, where the intense grazing would no doubt leave soils further damaged. In fact, one of the principals of Holistic Management - focusing on using the intense hoof action of cattle – has been claimed by the Savory Institute to increase the absorption of water by soils. However, several studies in fact stated that the opposite effect was seen. When comparing land that was not grazed with land that had been managed using a short rotational grazing system (which is very similar to Holistic Management in its ideas), water infiltration was significantly reduced, and the hoof action did not improve incorporation of litter into soil (Dormaar et al. 1989, Holechek et al. 2000). 

Long term studies on the effect of grazing on soil carbon storage have been done before, and the results are not promising. Two studies – by Bellamy (2005) and Schrumpf (2011) – studied soil carbon data and soil organic carbon, respectively, over periods of 25 years and a range of 10-50 years in European grasslands. Bellamy’s study came to the conclusion that there was no significant change in soil organic carbon stocks over this long period of time, and Schrumpf’s study showed that as an overall, there was no clear pattern in carbon storage. Increases and decreases were observed, as well as times of stability. There was no overall pattern to suggest that grazing had any sort of positive effect on carbon storage.  

Increasing temperature 

Allan Savoury wants to expand Holistic Management to cover land across the globe, that he believes can be saved from complete desertification by using his grazing technique. Simply, this is not possible due to the variety of climates that exist around the world, and in many cases, land which he has highlighted as targets to save by his technique cannot support livestock. This is clear in Figure 2:

Figure 2

 Figure 2: 

Top: A view of the world’s land and their vulnerability to desertification by climate change. Points to note are the land in grey – which is already dry – and the red / orange areas which at a high risk. Source: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/nedc/training/soil/?cid=nrcs142p2_054003

Bottom: The land that Savory highlights at land that is desertifying, taken from his TED talk. Note the difference between the correct figure (above) and Savory’s “estimate”. Sourcehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpTHi7O66pI&t=255s

To expand on this, land which is already desert, such as the Sahara, cannot be revived by any management technique. The climate is too harsh, cannot support plant growth, and therefore cannot support livestock. This is the same case for land which is at high risk of desertification, in countries such as Iran and Iraq (Figure 2). This leaves semi-arid and humid land as the only potential land able to support livestock. Climate change is likely to further damage these soils further. The explanation is that, as temperature increases, soil becomes drier. The soil becomes vulnerable to erosion, less likely to retain water, and levels of soil organic content will go down as the soil gets drier (Dalias et al. 2001). The carbon will seep out from soil back into the atmosphere. The soil changes from a carbon “sink” to a carbon “source”. In turn, this affects livestock. As the plant productivity gets worse, the livestock have less to feed on, and overall productivity of the farm goes down.

Methane

Methane, CH4, is a potent greenhouse gas. It is capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere, like carbon dioxide, and is a significant factor in global warming. Melting permafrostmethane clathrates in ocean and mostly importantly emissions from livestock are responsible for a large proportion of methane that has been released into the atmosphere. When cows burp or excrete gas, they release methane (Figure 3). This methane then accumulates in the atmosphere for a period of around 12 years before it is broken down into water vapour and carbon dioxide, which are both greenhouse gases themselves (Ripple et al. 2014). As methane has a shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide, its global warming potential is 28 times higher (Shindell et al. 2009). Part of the problem is that as the human population grows, the demand for meat grows too.  At the time of writing, the population of livestock (ruminants) is increasing by 25 million per year (FAO). This has the knock-on effect of increased methane emissions, and further global warming.

Allan Savory has refused to put a limit on the number of livestock that a farm can accommodate using the Holistic Management practice, claiming that bacteria capable of breaking down methane will solve this problem. He also has claimed that the number of wild ruminants in the past is equal to the current number of domesticated ruminants. This is inaccurate. The level of methane in the atmosphere today is 2.5 times higher than the level recorded before the industrial revolution (IPCC, 2001). This number has certainly increased as result of the expansion of the meat industry, in addition to other reasons listed. The methane-eating bacteria are common in both oxygen rich and oxygen depleted environments but are certainly not capable of breaking down the huge pool of methane that is present in the atmosphere today. 

Figure 3

Figure 3: The Methane Emissions which are attributable to cattle. Note the increased warming effect of methane over a 100-year time scale, compared to carbon dioxideSource: http://www.ccacoalition.org/en/activity/enteric-fermentation

Overall, methane emissions have continued to rise at an unprecedented rate over the past 250 years. Reducing livestock-based methane emissions will have a positive effect on global warming. For Holistic Management to work, there must be a balance between the amount of methane produced by livestock and the amount of carbon stored, which is known to be small. 

Conclusions 

Because of the complex nature of carbon storage in soils, increasing global temperature, risk of desertification and methane emissions from livestock, it is unlikely that Holistic Management, or any management technique, can reverse climate change. Studies of several grazing techniques and carbon storage have produced no ground-breaking results to suggest that Savory’s idea is doable. With increasing temperature, the ability of soil to store carbon will decrease, and grazing will likely speed up the process of desertification. Finally, methane emissions from cattle are currently too high, and their effect on global warming cannot be ignored. Adding more livestock to the planet will not help this.

References 

Bellamy, P.H. et al., 2005. Carbon losses from all soils across England and Wales 1978-2003. Nature, 437(7056), pp.245–248.


Dalias, P. et al., 2001. Long-term effects of temperature on carbon mineralisation processes. Soil biology & biochemistry, 33(7), pp.1049–1057.

Holechek, J.L. et al., 2000. Short-duration grazing: the facts in 1999. Rangelands Archives, 22(1), pp.18–22.

Johan F. Dormaar, Smoliak, S. & Walter D. Willms, 1989. Vegetation and Soil Responses to Short-Duration Grazing on Fescue Grasslands. Journal of Range Management, 42(3), pp.252–256.

Lal, R., 2004. Soil carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. Geoderma, 123(1), pp.1–22.

Monica Petri, Caterina Batello, Ricardo Villani and Freddy Nachtergaele, 2009. Carbon status and carbon sequestration potential in the world’s grasslands. FAO. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i1880e.pdf.

Nordborg, M., 2016. A critical review of Allan Savory’s grazing method. SLU/EPOK – Centre for Organic Food & Farming & Chalmers. Available at: http://publications.lib.chalmers.se/records/fulltext/244566/local_244566.pdf.

Ontl, T.A. & Schulte, L.A., 2012. Soil carbon storage. Nature Education Knowledge, 3, p.3(10):35.

Schrumpf, M. et al., 2011. How accurately can soil organic carbon stocks and stock changes be quantified by soil inventories? Biogeosciences , 8(5), pp.1193–1212.

Shindell, D.T. et al., 2009. Improved attribution of climate forcing to emissions. Science, 326(5953), pp.716–718.

Thornes, J.E., 2002. IPCC, 2001: Climate change 2001: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, edited by J. J. McCarthy, O. F. Canziani, N. A. Leary, D. J. Dokken a: BOOK REVIEW. International Journal of Climatology, 22(10), pp.1285–1286.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 41:

  1. Related research from last year : The vast reservoir of carbon stored beneath our feet is entering Earth's atmosphere at an increasing rate, most likely as a result of warming temperatures, suggest observations collected from a variety of the Earth's many ecosystems.

  2. I wrote a rather long detailed explanation why this rebuttal is flawed. But unfortunately it never posted.

    I don't know why? Maybe it was too long? 

    Anyway the short version is this. Oxic soils under grasslands are net sinks not sources.

    What reaction can you do to remove methane?

    So that part is completely flawed and actually improving and expanding grasslands would help lower methane, not increase it.

    The other mistake made here is in not understanding the difference between the catabolic processes of decay in the O-horizon of the soil profile and the anabolic processes of soil building in the A and B horizons of the soil profile.

    One is biomass and primarily a function of saprophytic fungi (SF) vs the other which is the liquid carbon pathway of root exudates and glomalin and primarily a function of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF).

    This makes the Roth C model not applicable at all. It simply doesn't apply in this case. It is a very good model for biomass decay, but it and any other biomass decay model are all flawed when trying to use them for the LCP.

    Here is evidence from the past of this ecosystem function:

    Cenozoic Expansion of Grasslands and Climatic Cooling

    Gregory J. Retallack doi: 10.1086/320791

    And here is a review of how we can apply the paleo record of this ecosystem function to modern times and near future AGW mitigation.

    Global Cooling by Grassland Soils of the Geological Past and Near Future

    Gregory J. Retallack doi:10.1146/annurev-earth-050212-124001

    And here is empirical evidence of carbon sequestration rates in the field under various agricultural techniques and systems. A careful examination of the evidence with an understanding of how the Liquid Carbon Pathway functions makes it very clear which systems use the LCP and why the difference in rates seen. It also confirms that the average sequestration rate of ~5-20 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr holds true in environments tested around the world.

    Conservation practices to mitigate and adapt to climate change

    Jorge A. Delgado, Peter M. Groffman, Mark A. Nearing, Tom Goddard, Don Reicosky, Rattan Lal, Newell R. Kitchen, Charles W. Rice, Dan Towery, and Paul Salon doi:10.2489/jswc.66.4.118A

    Managing soil carbon for climate change mitigation and adaptation in Mediterranean cropping systems: A meta-analysis

    Eduardo Aguilera, Luis Lassaletta, Andreas Gattinger, Benjamín S.Gimeno doi:10.1016/j.agee.2013.02.003

    Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farming

    Andreas Gattinger, Adrian Muller, Matthias Haeni, Colin Skinner, Andreas Fliessbach, Nina Buchmann, Paul Mäder, Matthias Stolze, Pete Smith, Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, and Urs Niggli doi/10.1073/pnas.1209429109

    Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security

    Rattan Lal doi: 10.1525/bio.2010.60.9.8

    The role of ruminants in reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint in North America

    W.R. Teague, S. Apfelbaum, R. Lal, U.P. Kreuter, J. Rowntree, C.A. Davies, R. Conser, M. Rasmussen, J. Hatfield, T. Wang, F. Wang, and P. Byc doi:10.2489/jswc.71.2.156

    Grazing management impacts on vegetation, soil biota and soil chemical, physical and hydrological properties in tall grass prairie

    W.R.Teague, S.L.Dowhower, S.A.Baker, N.Haile, P.B.DeLaune, D.M.Conover doi:/10.1016/j.agee.2011.03.009

    Please note that all of these have published results higher than this so called rebuttal claims is impossible. That's measured results. So right there is enough to show this rebuttal is empirically wrong.

    Of course they all show other measured results much lower too. And those also have strong reasons why.

    If they are primarily using biomass decay, then the carbon sequestration is positive but much smaller than when the primary biological pathway is the LCP. So there is your empirical evidence and also your explanation why.

  3. RedBaron, your other comment is to the "blog post" announcing this new "rebuttal" here: https://skepticalscience.com/holistic-management-rebuttal.html

  4. Thanks David, but no. That is also a pretty basic answer. I wrote out a long version that took about 3 or 4 hours to write. It vanished. Unfortunately I did not save a draft.  So I'll not be doing that again. Anyone with questions just ask and I'll handle them one at a time instead.

  5. Might actually help if you understood what holistic management is before you critique it. Hint: It isn't short duration or rotational grazing. Might also help if you referenced more current soil science.

    Carbon sequestration, utilztion and sequestration is driven by photosynthesis, plant diversity and soil biology. The more soil biology, and specifically arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (especially relative to bacteria), the more carbon capture and utilzation. Soil microbial science has had a major paradigm shift since more new metagenomic tools have been developed to gene microbial DNA. Sadly your paper references a lot of soil science pre-paradigm shift that doesn't account for the roll of soil microbiology, which pretty much drives everything including the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles (1,Paul et al 2018).

    There are two pathways for carbon utilzation: one the decompostion pathway, and the second the microbial carbon pump [MCP] (2.Liang et al 2017). The decomposition pathway is what's respires. This is labile carbon. The microbical carbon pump store carbon as deep as roots tips go. This is "deep carbon" that is what's sequestered and doesn't respire. As long as there is ground cover, respired carbon is what actually leads to more photosynthensis than atmospheric carbon so respired carbon is NOT lost to the atmosphere (3). Respire labile carbon is recycled with more of it being exuded by the roots as deep carbon. Diversity contributes a diversity of root depths and different exudates to a wider array of soil microbes. (4,5 Eisenhauer et al. 2017 and Zhalninal et al. 2018)

    The carbon saturation argument fails to acknowledge that via photosynthesis and the MCP more soil is formed. Soil too is formed from the top via decomposition and from the bottom (a-b horizon) via microbial necromass (6. Kallenbach et al 2016). As long as photosynthesis is occuring with diverse plant feeding microbes those microbes die and form more soil organic matter (SOM). More SOM contains more soil organic carbon (SOC) . So soil may reach equilibrium, but more soil is always accumulating from the top and bottom that can capture more carbon. The key for this to occur is to keep root mass in the soil.

    This is where grazing management comes into play. Contrary to what you wrote, holistic management and short duration grazing are NOT the same thing. Nordborg relies on Briske and Holechek both of whom looked at short duration grazing systems. Holistic Management is actually a comprehensive system to evaluate land to determine goals and paths for both ecosystem and economic restoration that may or may not involve holistic grazing based on the appropriateness of cattle (or other ruminants) in that ecosystem. So, it helps to actually understand what one is critiquing before actually makes a critique or relying on others' critiques. Dr. Richard Teague also wrote a response to the critique of Briske called "Deficiencies in the Briske et al rebuttal of the Savory method" (6). In this response Teague also notes that Briske is comparing grazing systems and doesn't seem to understand what holistic management is.

    In subsequent research, due to prejudice against Savory, in order to get published Teague coined the term AMP management. AMP stands for "adaptive multi-paddock" and is sometimes shorted further to adaptive grazing or adaptive management. Many of the more recent crtics in doing there analysis seem to be unaware that holistic and AMP management are the same thing, so they exclude papers are AMP management when they proclaim that there is no research to back up holistic management. This is a common, though mistaken, refrain. The body of research supporting AMP and HM actually continues to grow (plus is supported by a lot of the more recent soil science). Here's a stack of more recent range science papers supporting HM/AMP aggregated on Defending Beef's ISSUU page: issuu (dot) com/defendingbeef/stacks/c2202fc5e40d4766902627af9453909b

    Now holistic management that includes holistic grazing, unlike short duration or rotational grazing, isn't a prescribed system. When cattle or other ruminants are moved, they are monitored and not allowed to eat more than half the forage. Why half? Because anything more than half drastically reduces the amount of root mass. When root mass is maintain, the microbial carbon pump is also maintained, thus carbon exudates are continuously pumped into the soil. Extra plant growth not consumed is trampled down where that forage decompose and becomes part of the decompostion pathway and providing valaublae ground cover which reduces evaporation. The carbon pumped into the soil also improves the soil structure, allowing for more water to infiltrate and be retained, and ths allow for more plant growth. The area just grazed may not be regrazed for anywhere up to six months to a year depending on regrowth of plants. Again this is closely monitored , and animal movement is based on 'reading the land" through careful observation...again NOT a prescriptive system like SDG or rotational grazing.

    Curious, author have you ever been on a ranch of any kind? How about one that uses holistic managament? My guess is that you're only reading literature and have no real idea how any of this works. You should take a page from author Barry Estabrook's recent article on Savory. In this article, Estabrook listened to both advocates and critiques. Then Estabrook went and visited a Savory hub for himself and saw the results. which were undeniable....

    Now as for methane, using your logic, we should drain all the remaining wetlands and peat bogs plus kill all beavers since wetlands emit copious amounts of biogenic methane as do beaver ponds. Now the argument as to whether there were or were not more wild ruminants is a silly one since there's no real real accounting to prove either side. In North America, we have guestimates of bison, elk, pronghorn, moose, deer, big horn sheep, etc population that may or may not exceed current domesticated populations of domesitcated ruminants both in number and in mass. In Asia and Europe, the ecological memory is much more distant since the large herds of auroch, bison, stepped bison, irish elk, etc were exterpated a much much longer time ago. What's much easier to argument is that we had much greater regions of wetlands than we do have today as well as a lot more beavers making ponds full of methanogens making methane. Microbial, thermogenic and pyrogenic methane comes from a multitude of places like cockroaches, shellfish, coal bed gas, fracking, centipedes, burning biomass, decomposing organic mass, landfills, etc. Despite all of these emissions, the vast majority of this methane is oxidized by hydroxyl radicals in the troposphere (and to a lesser exent in the stratosphere). A small amount is oxidized by methanotrophs in the soil. The geosink though is very small.

    But here's the thing, Carbon flows, and shift forms.....

    Due to hydroxyl radical oxidation, enteric and most other forms of microbial methane really are part of the carbon cycle so it's a constant amount. CO2 from the atmosphere is converted to sugars plant use to make cellulose, lignan and exudates. Cattle eat the cellulose. A quorum of bacteria/archae including methanogens in the rumen convert that cellulose to H2, short chained fatty acids and CH4. The SFCA's are used for energy, and the CH4 is burped. That CH4 collides with OH (hydroxyl radicals) which steals a hydrogen atom and thus breaks down to H2O and eventually back to Co2 which again then goes to photosynthesis to make the grasses and twigs cattle and other ruminants eat. It's a cycle ...loop. ...not an aggregating process. If cattle or ruminants don't eat the grasses, those grasses still oxidize or decompose back to CO2 directly or to CH4 which then is oxidized in the geosphere by methanotrophs or the troposphere by hydroxyl radicals back to CO2 which then also cycles.

    Or, in other words, enteric methane from ruminants and other microbial sources is part of respiration. It's just a few extra steps from CO2 to cellulose to CH4 back to CO2 back to cellulose. So these sources of CH4 are not what are causing methane levels to rise again after 2007. What is? Natural gas from fracking which confused some researchers in their top down analysis becuause fracked gas has a C12 isotope signature. (Thermogenic -fossil fuel- methane sources typically have only C13 heavier isotope signatures). So if you really want to reduce methane levels, switch electrical generation to green energy ...and get rid of fracked natural gas and coal generation of electricity.

    Anyway, sorry got lazy with my references in the second half of this response. My references for methane include Prinn, Rigby, Howarth, etc.

    1). Paul, D et al. 2018. Molecular Genomic Techniques for Identification of Soil Microbial Community Structure and Dynamics
    2).. Liang, c et al 2017 the importance of anabolism in microbial control over soil carbon storage
    3). Farming the CO2 Factor, Eco-Farming Daily 10/10/2018
    4). Eisenhauer et al. 2017. root biomass and exudates link plant diversity with soil bacterial and fungal biomass
    5). Zhalnina1, K et al. 2018. Dynamic root exudate chemistry and microbial substrate preferences drive patterns in rhizosphere microbial community assembly
    6). Kallenbach et al. 2016. Direct evidence for microbial-derived soil organic matter formation and its ecophysiological controls

  6. I have quite a good knowledge of this area. I'll just state my opinions to start... Allan Savory's rhetoric and claims are rather over the top - and this rebuttal is rather 'under the top'. It throws the baby out with the bath water.

    The 'climate myth' as stated is (probably) still a myth but strip the hyperbole away from the myth-as-stated and there is still a useful technique left which I think this rebuttal unfairly denigrates.

    Much of the substance of these rebuttals uses straw man arguments and fallacious analogising. I think it should be removed from Skepticalscience.com because it is rather 'denialist' in the way that it argues. Post Vegan @5 gives a good explanation of why this rebuttal is mostly invalid.

    It is no doubt true that just holistically managed grazing alone can not be enough to suck all that excess CO2 from the atmosphere. Similarly, increasing soil organic carbon in agricultural crop fields - I don't think anyone could reasonably argue that our industrial agriculture has not greatly reduced 'natural' levels of SOM - is also not (using accepted figures from such as Lal) enough to do the job. We already know that greatly reducing fossil fuel emissions is also not enough, on its own, to do the job. I think we need all three, plus extras!

  7. A couple of comments to facilitate the discussion. First, let me set some context. (This post could go at the bottom of any rebuttal.)

    The aim of Skeptical Science is to communicate what we as a species know (and don’t know) about climate change, and to call out claims which misrepresent what we as a species know about climate science.

    This raises the question of how we, as a species, can know something. Clearly, there are things that we do know – that the earth is round and orbits the sun. A few people dispute these things, but we consider it nonetheless as something that is known. So how do we know that we know?

    The answer is laid out in lay terms in this talk by science historian Naomi Oreskes, and in many more academic talks she and others have given on the same subject. The problem is that people are human, and have incomplete information and cognitive biases. So we can’t trust people. Scientists train themselves to focus on evidence, but are still people, and so not very reliable. Scientific papers are a little more reliable, because of two additional social factors – when we attach our name to a paper, some of our reputation goes with it, and also the paper should be rigorously critiqued by (when the system works) independent scientists looking to find holes in our work. But science is hard, so we still expect many individual papers to be wrong. The best measure of what we as a species know comes from an assessment of all of the scientific literature on the question, because more diverse and more dispersed groups are less subject to groupthink and other biases.

    When we address a claim on SkS, we have to have a standard against which to evaluate a claim. And the most reliable standard is to compare that claim against the whole body of scientific opinion relevant to that claim. We expect a diversity of opinion, but we can assess the breadth of diversity on a particular question. We can then identify whether a particular claim is representative of the scientific knowledge on a particular question, or whether it is part of a spectrum of diverse opinions. In the latter case we can further identify whether the claim falls in the middle of that spectrum, on the edge, or is an extreme outlier with little other support.

    Obviously this can’t be done by citing individual papers, it must be done on the basis of an extensive review. Hence the lengthy citation list. We expect to find outliers on any question – I’ll discuss some of these later. However, we also expect multiple systematic reviews to reach similar conclusions, so comparison with the IPCC reports is an important starting point.

    So, that raises two questions:

    1. Where do Savory’s claims stand with respect to the spread of scientific opinion on those questions?
    2. Does the rebuttal do a good job of communicating the spread of scientific opinion and the relative position of Savory’s claims?

    I'll try and look into the first of these in my next post.

  8. Firstly, we need to establish the scope of the question. There is scientific discussion as to whether holisitic management provides significant benefits over other managed grazing techniques (and of course there is no doubt that managed grazing provides benefits over mismanaged grazing). Conclusions vary both by location and by the field of the researchers, with sociologists (who talk to the farmers) more positive than experimental agriculturalists (who rely more on measurements). While extremely interesting from a scientific viewpoint, this is not a relevant question for Skeptical Science.

    The question which is key to the work of Skeptical Science is whether Savory’s very specific claims about the ability of holistic management to extract CO2 from the atmosphere at levels sufficient to reverse climate change are credible. Savory claims that over a period of 40 years the application of holistic management could remove 500 Gt of CO2 from the atmosphere.

    So lets start with the IPCC report (AR5 WG3), since it is a comprehensive assessment by some of the best people in the field. Chapter 11 reviews the potential for CO2 mitigation from agriculture and land restoration, with figure 11.13 being particularly relevant. According to this figure, the potential CO2 emissions mitigation from grazing land management, land restoration and livestock is about 2 GtCO2eq/year, or about 5% of our current emissions at the highest carbon price of $100/tonne. If we were to achieve this level of mitigation continually for 40 years, that would be 80 GtCO2eq or 22 tT C, or 5% of Savory’s estimate. Taking the upper 1 sigma bound only leads to a small increase in this value.

    Note however that this is based in part on reductions in emissions rather than uptake, and ignores the issue of non-permenance of additional soil sequestered carbon (section 11.3.2), both of which reduce the expected mitigation potential.

    Are there estimates of the long term carbon sequestration potential of soils under improved grazing or other management schemes? Eagle et al (2010), which is the primary source for the Delgado paper cited by Red Baron, lists two 40 year studies (table 23), with one showing no change from altered grazing practices, and the other showing a small increase in sequestration (0.66 tCO2eq/ha yr, 0.2 tC/ha yr) from a change in grazing. For single year studies, Eagle finds the CO2 sequestration potential of rangeland as uncertain and varying in sign from study to study.

    The two Retallack papers cited by Red Baron don’t seem to be relevant – the first deals with very long timescales (~10Kyr). The second contains a brief speculative section at the end, but does not offer any data except for a citation to Sanderman (2010), who in turn cites Connant (2001), which was a source work for this rebuttal and found vary variable results from different studies. Sanderman also notes that “On average, 1-2% of plant residues become stabilised as humified soil organic matter for significant periods of time (Schlesinger 1990).” highlighting the importance of the permenance issue.

    I'll try and work through a couple more of the suggested papers this evening.

  9. @6 Nick,

     Even Savory doesn't claim that. He clearly states in many interviews that part of HM includes renewable energy and reducing emissions as a holistic approach to AGW mitigation. There are some people out there claiming a silver bullet, but Savory is not one of them actually. This is from his plan:

    A Two-Path Strategy is Essential for Combating Combat Climate Change

    1.  High Technology Path. This path, based on mainstream reductionist science, is urgent and vital to the development of alternative energy sources to reduce or halt future emissions.
    2. Low Technology Path. This path based on the emerging relationship science or holistic world view is vital for resolving the problem of grassland biomass burning, desertification and the safe storage of CO2, (legacy load) of heat trapping gases that already exist in the atmosphere.

    You can read his whole plan here:

    A Global Strategy for Addressing Global Climate Change
    by Allan Savory

  10. Kevin C wrote: "Chapter 11 reviews the potential for CO2 mitigation from agriculture and land restoration, with figure 11.13 being particularly relevant. According to this figure, the potential CO2 emissions mitigation from grazing land management, land restoration and livestock is about 2 GtCO2eq/year, or about 5% of our current emissions at the highest carbon price of $100/tonne. If we were to achieve this level of mitigation continually for 40 years, that would be 80 GtCO2eq or 22 tT C, or 5% of Savory’s estimate."

    For those readers who don't know, 'Kevin C' is a heavyweight climate scientist. I think the IPCC figures given above relate to 'conventional' soil restoration and grazing management. As I wrote, I think Allan Savory claims too much in his headline statements, but I'm pretty sure his figures include large contributions from reversing desertified and highly degraded land which is probably not covered, or fully conceived of, in the IPCC chapter. Whether his techniques can do that, of course, is a subject of debate...

    It's a truism that many giant agricultural fields have very low soil carbon in them nowadays due to the way they are cultivated - much lower, percentage wise, than the soil would have had when first cultivated. Industrial agriculture has denuded carbon from the soil and the quantities are thought provoking.  As a thought experiment, just assume that all land we use for food crops and livestock on earth has a SOM of, say 3%. Given that, if we could increase that average up to, say, 6% then a relatively simple calculation shows that just about all current greenhouse emissions could be absorbed  by this increased 'sink', but also that some way could be gone towards sucking historic CO2 emissions back out the atmosphere.

    There are, of course, known limits to increasing soil organic matter conventionally, as has been mentioned. For example, just piling on endless tonnes of compost has only a temporary effect - bacteria 'respire' much if it right back out again in to the atmosphere as CO2 - unless one simultaneously addresses recreating the bacterial and fungal etc ecosystems that conventional agriculture has degraded. Building up them the long lived humic acids and glomalins  creates soil carbon that is much more resistant to breakdown. I don't think this aspect is covered by the IPCC chapter.

  11. Nick Palmer:

    Statements like "which is probably not covered, or fully conceived of, in the IPCC chapter" and "I don't think this aspect is covered by the IPCC chapter" do not make for a very convincing argument.  Either it is covered or it is not. 

    Since the IPCC includes very experienced scientists who have certainly heard about all aspects of soil science it seems to me that it would be covered.  If it was not covered, the proponents of holistic management could have asked questions and gotten it in.

  12. I just came across this ABC News (Australia) video and it may or may not relate directly to the ongoing discussion on this thread.

    Boorowa farmer, David Marsh, began his journey into regenerative agriculture in the 1980s, after a drought brought him to the edge of ruin. He began adopting regenerative practices in 1999, increasing the amount of native vegetation and tree coverage on his property from just 3 per cent to 20 per cent.

    Regenerative farming has helped transform the landscape of dry properties, ABC News (Australia), Mar 14, 2019

  13. Holistic management isn't something one can really understand by reading papers on a computer screen, especially when one relies on papers that don't know the difference between holistic management and short duration grazing [SDG] or rotational grazing [RG]. The whole argument above is built on a house of cards since the author bases a large part of the analysis on Nordborg, who in turn relies on Briske and Holechek. All of these people make the same error. So let me reiterate, holistic management (aka AMP management) and short duration grazing or rotational grazing are not the same thing.

    I didn't fully understand what holistic management was until I attended a few HM workshops and visited a few ranches using these management practices. Savory's talks and book weren't very useful since Savory's writing and speaking styles tends towards the use of a lot of run on sentences with non-parallel structure that tend to obfuscate rather than clarify. His TedTalk was one of his more persuasive talks since because of the time constraint, he was forced to be succinct. Though in this talk, many of the points, he’d normally qualify, were stated without any qualifications.

    Now most people think HM is just another way or system to move cattle. But HM (more specifically holistic grazing), is primarily a process to restore and regenerate land utilizing a holistic ecosystem view. Holistic grazing, also called adaptive grazing, should also be thought of as regenerative or ecological grazing. Holistic grazing mimics nature, regenerates land and restores ecosystem function.

    When starting with HM, the land’s existing conditions are assessed, goals are then determined, and a plan is implemented. That plan is constantly re-assessed and modified to achieve the plan's goals. Goals include improving soil health, greater plant and wildlife diversity, improved forage, improved animal welfare, improved hydrology, increased ground cover, etc. Ranchers using HM are as much soil farmers as they are meat producers. HM isn’t prescriptive. Movements are adapted to the land conditions. Every ranch will have its own unique plan to achieve its goals. Now systems like SDG and RG are systems, with specific movements patterns based on specific set timing irrespective of specific land conditions with the primary goal being cattle weight gains.

    With holistic grazing, ruminants are an essential tool for achieving these restorative and regenerative goals. Ruminants are "all-in-one" tools. They are mowers, seed pushers, ground "indentors", composters, fertilizer spreaders, nutrient cyclers and soil builders. Moreover these four-legged decomposing spreader nutrient cyclers, in the field, don't require any fossil fuels.

    Now the connection between grazing management and carbon sequestration is soil biology, specifically what practices improve biology and which one’s don’t improve biology.  Soil biology drive carbon utilzation, respiration and sequestration as well as water infiltration and retention.  As the most recent soil science has been finding when root mass is maintained, as I noted above, plants continue to exude exudates into the soil. When plants are grazed more than 50%, the plants lose most of their root mass. This is why cattle in HM or AMP systems have to be frequently moved. The tops of plants also have the most nutrition. Additionally when ruminants eat the tops, they are less exposed to worms and other potential pathogens closer to the soil. All the animal movements are based on field observations of plant growth and ground cover, not a specific pattern or timing as with SDG or RG systems. So once again, HM and SDG/RG are not the same thing.

    Cattle’s urine, manure and saliva function as inoculates that increase plant growth. Ruminants, including cattle’s ancestors’ auroch, co-evolved with vegetation in grassland ecosystems. Grasses have nodes, so when bit they regrow from those nodes. The manure in healthy grassland ecosystems is broken down quickly by different types of dung beetles that quickly move the dung into the earth and thus reduce any methane off gassing. This helps build soil. But the primary mechanism for building soil, again as I noted previously, is microbial necromass accumulation. Up until recently, the general belief was that top soil takes hundreds of year to accumulate through mineralization. MacArthur Fellow, and geologist Dr. David Montgomery in his last two books, The Hidden Half of Nature and Growing a Revolution, does an excellent job of dispelling this belief by illustrating how better soil conservation agricultural practices, including livestock integration, speed up top soil formation significantly. So, as I noted in my prior response, more soil accumulates and captures more carbon. There isn’t a finite amount of soil, so there isn’t a finite of carbon capture, thus the whole premise of “saturation” is a flawed one except for in a degenerated system where no more soil is accumulating.

    Better land management, including better grazing and agricultural practices, also maintain arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi [AMF] networks. When land is over grazed, tilled or treated with syn N, those AMF networks are destroyed. These networks connect plants and per preliminary research seem to play a huge role in the amount of carbon that can be sequestered. Dr. David Johnson, a microbiologist at New Mexico State University, did two self-financed research studies that showed massive increases in carbon sequestration coupled with decreased carbon respiration when fungi to bacteria ratios were improved. Johnson’s carbon sequestration numbers were 10 to 20 times those of Lal. Johnson’s numbers were so good, that one of the conservative peer reviewers didn’t believe those numbers, so both of Johnson’s paper were not accepted for publication. Though currently, several places across the globe including the new regenerative Ag program at Cal State Univ. Chico, are replicating Johnson’s studies to (hopefully) validate Johnson’s numbers. In the meantime, Johnson has made his composting methodology reading available online for anyone to replicate. This is a non-proprietary, non-licensed methodology, so Johnson doesn’t gain a dime directly from his processes. Here’s a good recent talk by Johnson at Cal St. Univ. –Chico where he discusses his research: Regenerating the Diversity of Life in Soils: Hope for Farming, Ranching and Climate

  14. I've writen more about the importance of soil biology in this blog entry : It's the Soil Biology, Stupid. 

    Climate scientists and soil scientists as well as botanists really need to get out of their respective silos and talk to one another. Obviously we live in an interconnected (rather than reductive) world. For example: Carbon dioxide converted to glucose via the krebs cycle gets exuded and feeds soil microbes, which in turn, improves soil structure thus allowing for more water infiltration and retention. Thus more plant growth. More plant growth versus bare ground means more cooling immediately at the surface level. Plus plants transpire monoterpines like isoprene and pine which when oxidized become nuclei essential for rain cloud formation. Thus consolidation of water vapor leads to cooling as well as more cloud formation which reflects solar radiation…and thus more cooling. The more soil is recarbonized, the less evaporation and the more plant growth, so less water vapor and more cloud formation. Capiche?

    Anyway, I’ll be writing something about these interconnections soon, until then here’s something else I wrote that is a more systems view of methane: Ruminations- Methane math and context.

    All this reductive thinking like noted in the author’s myth busting gives everyone who is more mindful a lobotomy. We should be asking more questions rather than trying to “prove” all the time that others are “wrong”.

  15. Still working through the paper list slowly:

    • Gattinger et al (2012) report a “maximum technical potential” of 56 Gt C globally from 2010 till 2030, based on shifting all farming (not just rangeland grazing) to organic. This assumes no economic barriers and that no land is already organicly farmed. That’s one of the highest numbers I’ve found. When extended to 40 years, that would reach about ¼ of Savory’s figure, but by making much more extensive changes.
    • Lai (2010) show in figure 8 an economic potential for sequestration of 0.49 Gt C/yr (or 1.8 Gt CO2eq/yr) from livestock and grazing land management. Over 40 years that makes 20 Gt of carbon.
    • Teague et al (2011) and Teague et al (2016) provide a higher estimate. They estimate 0.8 Gt C/yr for adoption of adaptive multipaddock grazing across the whole of the US. If we were to assume the same benefit worldwide sustained over 40 years, that would give 120 Gt C - still a factor of 4 below Savory.

    My expertise in temperature data does not transfer to animal husbandry. All I'm doing is reading papers carefully and looking for numbers which are actually comparable (to whatever extent possible) and relevant to the question.

  16. @12 John Hartz,

    Yes Cell grazing from your link is an early form of Savory's work. It is not the same as HM, because quite a bit more work went into developing HM since the early days when Savory developed cell grazing from Voisin's rational grazing. But yes they are closely related. It is quite possible to get exactly the same results in soil carbon sequestration.

    Cell Grazing

    Cell Grazing the first 10 years in Austrailia

  17. One other thing, as noted in my blog entry on methane, Ruminations-Methane math and context, spikes in atmospheric methane emissions correlate with industrialization, conventional natural gas use, and most recently the fractured natural gas industry. From 1998 to 2007, atmospheric methane levels had leveled out. During this period of time, global cattle inventories increased. Since 2007, global cattle inventories have decreased yet atmospheric levels of CH4 have again started to rise. So there is NO correlation between global cattle inventories and atmospheric CH4 levels. What started in 2006? You betchya, fracking. Typical microbial sources of methane (methanogenesis from archae- methanogens) have C12 isotopic signatures of methane while thermogenic sources of methane (fossil fuels) have C13 isotropic signatures of methane. But fracking and coal bed gas also have C12 isotopic signatures. This has led to some confusion in top down analysis of methane sources, especially when very rudimentary inventories of CH4 isotopes have been used. There's a lot of overlap in signatures, but in general some studies have been attributing CH4 to the animal Ag sector that should really be attributed to the natural gas fracking sector. (Note bottom up analysis of CH4 tends to over count and place blame on those sources of methane easier to extrapolate - like cattle- rather than sources of methane harder to account for like leaky gas pipes or the number of cockroaches).

  18. Just a quick note: I spent 6 hours doing research based on 1 comment yesterday. I've started on PV's comments, which contain some very useful context which help understand some of RB's paper list.

    I can only devote 1-2 hours a day to this over the next 3 days, but I am hoping to make a further contribution either today or tomorrow.

  19. A further brief update: I'm still looking into this but there were multiple unplanned demands on my time next week, and I have a conference next week.

    The papers of Teague et al are central to this discussion, and following the downstream citations looks to be a productive way forward.

    A recent example is Stanley et al (2018), which also finds high rates of C sequestration over 4 years. They suggest that these rates may be sustained for several more years, but also imply that the rates will not be sustained indefinately - maintainability of sequestration rates (which in turn is closely coupled with permenance of the sequestered carbon) is one of the central issues with Savory's initial claim.

    The other problem is extrapolation from single or similar locations to a global scale. Abdalla et al (2017) and Sherry & Ritchie (2013) both highlight the fact that the impacts of grazing may change sign between locations based on the presence of C3 vs C4 grass species, with Abdalla also noting substantial variation between climatic zones.

    Extrapolation of local results to the globe and short term results to a 40 year period are therefore problematic. This may explain why even the large sequestration potential suggested by my extrapolation of Teague is much greater than the result of Lal who actually provides global and multidecadal estimates.

    Given that naive extrapolation of the work of Teague still leads to an estimate of the carbon sequestration potential 4 times lower than that claimed by Savory, it still looks as though Savory's claim is indefensible and requires a rebuttal. I think Seb and I could probably improve the tone and nuance of the rebuttal in the light of some of the newer papers on AMP/MP, but unless there are some global/long period results we have missed I don't see that the conclusions of the rebuttal on the sequestration claim are going to change very much.

    I'm very happy to look at more papers, but addition papers quoting the same local or short term results we have already seen don't really help. Non-naive global and/or long term sequestration projections are the most helpful information.

  20. For the full picture it would be necessary to include opportunity costs if comparing feedlot to AMP like in Stanley et al (2018). The AMP system needed 120% more land than feetlot. This additional land could have been used to sequester carbon in other ways, if not used for AMP. This would lower the amount of sequestration relative to feedlot.

    I have not calculated this yet. Some estimates for such opportunity costs have been given in Searchinger et al (2018).

  21. @20 liberator,

    That study does not include Methanotroph activity in their CH4 analysis. So their methane analysis was flawed compared to feedlot. But they did report soil sequestration of CO2e resulting as a net negative. So they got that part right at least, even using imported alfalfa hay, which is not needed in HPG, unlike certain other AMPs. Important to note too that the rang of soil sequestration they found was within the 5-20 tonnes CO2e / ha/ yr found elsewhere. Once they finally get the methane cycle right too, the differences will be even more profound.

    @Kevin C,

    Thanks for the time and effort. Here is more fuel for the fire.

    Can Soil Microbes Slow Climate Change?

    " Johnson reported a net annual increase of almost 11 metric tons of soil carbon per hectare on his cropland."

    Converted to CO2e that is ~ 40 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr. About double the average reported by Jones and 4x what was reported by Teague, but nearly the same as the high outliers. Jones also took the raw results and measured that only 78% was stable humic  polymers and I don't see where or if Johnson did that.

    It's not HPG, but it does show the biophysical capacity of microorganisms in the soil to sequester high rates of carbon.

  22. From Red Barons's Scientific American report: "As with all of Johnson’s work to date, this result has appeared only in the form of reports and other “grey literature.”

    Grey literature is not allowed in the IPCC report because it is considered unreliable.  Johnson needs to replicate his work and publish the results in a peer reviewed report.  Hardly part of the scientific consensus.

  23. Michael, I dont believe you are correct about grey literature. Eg see here.

  24. I understand that in certain cases it might not be wise to use "grey literature". However it is also not reasonable to expect the same results repeating published papers be published over and over again in every state and/or country too. At some point there has to be an understanding that yes indeed this is a legit way to sequester large quantities of carbon deep in the soil, and all that remain is to project the number of acres we use it on. The biophysical aspect of what Savory discusses is well established enough that this is all that remains! 

    Will we change Ag or not? The more we change to holistic management, the more carbon gets sequestered! And also since agriculture is about 20-25% of emissions, it means a reduction of emissions too.

    Oh and I just ran across this again.

    Impacts of soil carbon sequestration on life cycle greenhouse gas emissions in Midwestern USA beef finishing systems

    "Across-farm soil organic carbon (SOC) data showed a 4-year C sequestration rate of 3.59 Mg C ha−1 yr−1in AMP grazed pastures. After including SOC in the GHG footprint estimates, finishing emissions from the AMP system were reduced from 9.62 to −6.65 kg CO2-e kg carcass weight (CW)−1, whereas feed-lot (FL) emissions increased slightly from 6.09 to 6.12 kg CO2-e kg CW−1 due to soil erosion. This indicates that AMP grazing has the potential to offset GHG emissions through soil C sequestration, and therefore the finishing phase could be a net C sink."

    convert to CO2e 3.59 x 3.67 =
    13.1753 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr and yet again another replication of the work Jones recorded, dead center in the 5-20 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr.

    And that doesn't even count the fact that we could simultaneously take a similar acreage of corn out of production replacing it with grass. So we are reducing emissions and increasing sequestration simultaneously. Twice the efficacy at 1/2 the cost!

    Clearly the Myth that needs debunked from this website is the Myth that HPG doesn't work.

  25. Redirected from: Video: Is CO2 actually dangerous?

    @33 nigelj,

    Yes I understand I am lacking in diplomatic social graces. I apologize. I also do understand you are trying as well. Again my fault for poor communication skills.

    You still have it wrong though....fundamentally.

    "graze cattle in ways that promote plant growth..." so therefore by obvious implication they sequester more carbon. Hello?"

    Plant growth is good for primary productivity sure. However, biomass is not sequestered carbon. It is fixed carbon and sometimes stored carbon. Both of which really are near net neutral on the carbon cycle, especially when viewed in geological timeframes.

    The sequestrated carbon in a grassland follows a completely different biochemical pathway. They both start with photosynthesis, but the pathway you descibe and the one most commonly known does indeed end in primary productivity of biomass. The other pathway is quite unknown by nearly everyone and was only just discovered in 1996 by Dr Sara F. Wright, a scientist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

    Later termed the "Liquid Carbon Pathway" it starts with photosynthesis but approximately 40% of the total products of photosynthesis are diverted to root exudates to feed symbiotic arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi who then build an underground communication network with newly discovered stable soil glue called glomalin.

    Liquid carbon pathway unrecognised

    Mycorrhizal Fungi: The World’s Biggest Drinking Straws And Largest Unseen Communication System

    Glomalin: Hiding Place for a Third of the World's Stored Soil
    Carbon

    More importantly when glomalin eventually degrades, rather than returning to the atmosphere as CO2, as much as 78% becomes humic polimers tightly bound to the soil mineral substrate. This carbon generally can not easily return to the active carbon cycle. It will over geological time either erode and become sedimentary rock or fossilize in situ.

    Cenozoic Expansion of Grasslands and Climatic Cooling

    The novel part to all this being the evolution of C4 perennial grasses that are up to 2-4 times as efficient at photosynthesis as C3 plants and yet have much less biomass than a forest or brushland. The mystery of where, when and why all that sequesters carbon in the soil is being worked out now. It's all very exciting new research. It turns out that under the right conditions more carbon is diverted into this newly discovered pathway than the total primary biomass productivity of a forest!

    This is a case where people in the field like Voisin, Savory, and many ranchers observed a phenomenon they couldn't accurately descibe. No one knew why or how it was happening. The soil building qualities and increases in soil carbon were measurable, but until Dr Wright's breakthrough, no one even guessed how it happened. This is part of the reason for such strong pushback by scientists like Belsky and Briske. The phenomenon was observed for well over 100 years before we even had an idea what was going on in grassland soils.

    Mollic Epipedon

    So you see? What people are seeing as modest increases in grassland productivity when bison (or properly managed cattle) graze an area is actually for AGW mitigation purposes a sign that below the ground something very much more significant is happening unseen.

    The methane cycle is equally as complex and also a net sink in upland oxic grassland soils! So that means properly managed cows actually reduce methane, they do not contribute to it at all. It's a complete myth that has become a Vegan talking point, but it does not reflect the science.

    Soil microorganisms as controllers of atmospheric trace gases (H2, CO, CH4, OCS, N2O, and NO)

    I actually very much appreciate your posts because when you get it wrong I then know I have somehow again poorly communicated this new information. So please don't take it personal.

  26. RedBaron @25, apology accepted, but find the social graces man. Anyone can do it!

    I have had to learn to be a bit diplomatic , because my job involved getting clients although I'm semi retired now. Yeah its tedious, and I prefer to get to the point myself, but if you want to criticise peoples comments, its useful to find at least some points of agreement etc, and smooth the waters, and be nice. If you don't, people will get annoyed and possibly dismiss you and your ideas. It's human nature.

    I was basically supporting you, in the main.

    You said I was in denial about proper rotational grazing sequestering carbon when I plainly wasn't. I stated that poor farming practices contributed to higher emissions and we should graze cattle in ways that promote plant growth. I didn't have time to go into more details about liquid carbon pathways, and I thought this pathway was activated when grass growth was stimulated, but not over stimulated.

    I was really looking for some confirmation that the reason the IPCC says we have a methane emissions problem with cattle, is because numbers of cattle have increased at the same time that poor farming practices have degraded soil sinks and we have deforstation. Is that broadly correct in your opinion?

    Please note I said cattle grazing is carbon neutral "all other things being equal" and then went on to explain that they are not equal because we have farmed poorly and degraded natural sinks.

    However in hindsight I do accept your point that carbon neutral was bad wording because the times it would be exactly carbon neutral are limited.
    Perhaps I could have said it better, something like this: "Cattle emit methane that breaks down to carbon dioxide and this is normally absorbed by natural sinks such as grasses and trees, but in recent decades we have increased cattle farming and degraded natural sinks with deforestation and poor farming practices, thus leading to an excess of atmospheric CO2 . The solution is to reduce our meat consumption and plant trees and farm in ways that enhance the ability of soils to absorb carbon. Proper rotational grazing can enhance the ability of grasslands to absorb carbon, so there is no need to completely stop eating meat."

    This needs polishing up, but you have to keep it simple like this so the public get the big picture. You can then go on to explain the details of liquid carbon pathways. Hope that helps.

  27. @Nigelj,

    Glad we are talking again, but you are still completely wrong. I am not sure how overly simplified I need to make this....

    If something is beneficial, we need more of it. If something is harmful, we need less of it. Is this simplified enough for you? I am proposing eliminating many harmful practises in agriculture, and increasing many beneficial practises.

    It makes no sense at all to go through all the trouble of changing agriculture to regenerative practices, then reduce our usage of those beneficial systems. You got it backwards.

    You said, "The solution is to reduce our meat consumption and plant trees and farm in ways that enhance the ability of soils to absorb carbon. Proper rotational grazing can enhance the ability of grasslands to absorb carbon, so there is no need to completely stop eating meat."

    That's backwards. It makes sense only if we DONT change agriculture.

    Actually we need to increase meat production significantly. Global hunger and cronic malnutrition affects 815 million people (Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] et al., 2017) As developing nations pull themselves out of poverty, they can afford more meat in their diet and balance their nutritional requirements much better.

    The thing that needs to be dramatically reduced is commodity crops used to make biofuels and supply feedlots and other factory farms, make high processed foods like high fructose corn syrup etc... Cornfields need switched to forests and grasslands depending on the biome that was destroyed to make the cornfield. We can then actually raise more animals than now, cheaper, healthier, and beneficial to the newly restored environments we are now raising them in instead of CAFOs.

    This would increase the meat supply significantly and drive the price down too. Especially if the ranchers and farmers got paid for the increases of soil carbon. 

    Its a win win all around for everyone.

    It’s Time to Rethink America’s Corn System

  28. RedBaron @27

    You have made a sweeping statement that I got everything wrong. You have learned literally nothing about my comments about diplomacy. Most people are going to react to that sort of comment by dismissing both you are your ideas. Fortunately for you I have a thick skin and control my temper.

    It's also an immensely silly statement, because some things I said are what you have said, or close enough.

    You have not answered my question in paragraph 5. Again, you show no diplomacy, and no respect.

    You have mentioned one specific thing that you disagree with: that I think we should eat less meat. You think we should eat more meat, but this doesn't make sense to me, because it means we need even more land for cattle. Do you not realise there is competing demand for land for biofuels, and beccs and foresty, and crops to feed a population heading to 12 billion people at least, and urban development? 

    Meat is a very inefficient use of resources requiring enormous inputs of land, biomass and water for a small quantity ofprotein outputs. Obviously you must know this.

    Yes I understand the "corn" issue in America, but that is only one component of land demand as I've outlined.

    It's really unlikely we can or should expand areas of land for grazing. Given rotational grazing is land intensive, if anything per capita meat consumption probably thus needs to fall, although not drastically.

    Now you would presumably argue that actually hugely expanding grasslands for cattle farming is a great thing, because it draws down atmospheric carbon, and so this should all take precedence over everything else. This would be a big claim so needs massive levels of proof. I have had a look at the numbers, and even taking your best numbers of 5-20 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr, and using 10 tonnes, this gives something like a reduction in about 10% of our total current emissions per year  It's still a good number - but as pointed out on this website about a year ago it falls well short of the sort of claims made by people like Savory no matter how you try to spin it. And this assumes literally all farms work regeneratively, ( a massive scaling up operation with huge challenges) and this soil carbon diminishes over time as soils heat up and upper layers become a net carbon source.

    The whole rotational grazing  proposal has merit, but would therefore take a very long time to make a dent in atmospheric concentrations of carbon, so its hard for me to see a case for scaling up your proposal above current land area.

    I can however see a very good case for making better use of what land area we "currently" use for livestock farming, and using Savorys rotational grazing system.

    If you think my maths is wrong, by all means check it and tabulate your own calculations in an ordered fashion but my rough boe calcs and conclusions are not much different from scientists who actually specialise in this area.

    I think you are in danger of coming across as an obsessive scientific crank with their pet project somewhat like Killian over at realclimate.org! Now perhaps I'm not being too diplomatic myslelf :) Imjust giving you a bit of advice.

    You have posted a lot of details and links on soil science. I'm not disputing that stuff in the main and never have. So if you want to post it don't do it for my benefit, but perhaps you are doing it for other people reading.

    To summarise, I do accept there is a valuable looking pathway where properly grazed pastures encourage the glomalin pathway and leads to deeper carbon rich soils ultimately, and as such we should farm that way, but the process looks slow to me, and theres not exactly a scientific consensus on the effectiveness of the issue,  and there are many competing uses for land. As such its hard for me to think we should actually expand grazing lands, but rotationally grazing what we have seems logical. I think you are right in general terms, but you may need to be more realistic.

  29. There is approximately 3.5 billion ha of grazing land already. approximately 80% of it is currently over grazed or under grazed. 

    10 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr x 3.5 billion = 35 billion tonnes CO2e/yr

    Global emissions are in that range as in 2018, global fossil CO2 emissions totaled 36.6 billion tons.

    That is not counting restoring desertified land as Savory advises, nor does it count restoring farnland currently being used unwisely for commodity crops to fill a highly wasteful  and unsustainable industrialised commodity system. That's about 320 million hecares worldwide that less than 1/2 of which actually feeds human beings.  So another 1.6 billion tonnes CO2e/yr.

    But wait there is more. Most the haber process fertilizers and fossil fuel usage for supplying these foolish production models all add up to approximately 15-20 % of emissions worldwide. Just fixing them alone potentially reduces emissions ~7.2 billion tonnes CO2/yr.

    35+1.6+7.2 = roughly a potential of 43.8 billion tonnes CO2 offset against a total emissions of 36.6 billion tonnes emissions and already about 1/2 of that is already offset by natural systems!

    We have the potential for drawdown. Maybe just by using holistic management to replace the commodity corn system and regenerate desertified lands.

    So I am not sure at all how you obtained a potential of only 10% since you have not shown your figures.

    Of course that's theorectical potential. Much like the potential for renewable energy, the actual numbers are fairly certain to fall short of the potential. Not everyone will change agriculture in a single year. It takes decades for training and infrastructure etc... and that's only after the actual commitment to make the change in the first place.

    So of course reductions in fossil fuel use will need to be made to meet it 1/2 way in the middle somewhere.  But certainly actual drawdown is possible. No other drawdown potential exists using any other technology currently available.

  30. Red Baron,

    You have been making the same claims here for years.  I read your references and they do not support your wild claims.  The OP here reviews the literature on this topic and clearly states that your claims are not supported.  A review of the comments sees you repeating the same unsupported claims.

    Better farming methods will help and fix a little carbon.  Your claims that all released carbon can be sequestered are simply false.  There is no magic bullet in graising.

    New readers should read the OP for a more balanced evaluation of holistic grazing. 

  31. @michael Sweet,

    I have back up all claims as well as debunked the false claims in the OP multiple times, if that's what you mean, sure.

    And yes I have done this for years, and slowly the consensus of scientific opinion has been moving this direction too. 

    There are many many comming around, project drawdown being a great example: Project drawdown

    Terraton initiative being another.

    Even the IPCC admits it, but is under the mistaken notion that changing agriculture would lower yields, so makes the mistaken assumption relatively small acreage could be changed. In fact yields for increase substantially. So that is why although they agree it could be significant, they lowball it.

    Now it is to the point that the OP position posted here is decidedly minority, Actually in my opinion it is actually a merchants of doubt talking point that somehow got past Skeptical Science..

    I am not critical of Skeptical Science though, because the merchants of doubt used a shotgun approach and fired literally hundreds of obfuscation attempts and the fact you managed to debunk them all but one is pretty impressive actually.

    I am just trying to help you tackle the one you missed.

    Response:

    [DB] Sloganeering snipped.

  32. Red Baron @29, I haven't kept a record of my calculation, but I was going by a smaller land area that I got off some website ( it looks like it was wrong), and I factored in an allowance for the fact that warming will cause some loss of soil carbon eventually as has been established in research. So my estimate was probably too low, however  I doubt we would achieve your optimistic numbers either. 

    And like I said, there are huge competing requirements for land, and they are valid requirements. Realistically you are going to probably have to make the best of current grazing areas, and even that will be optimistic. So given rotational grazing uses more land than intensive corn fed dairy farming, its rather looks like lower meat consumption to me rather than higher meat consumption.

    Savorys ideas about reclaiming desert look rather optimistic. This would not just happen in a market economy, there's not enough profit in it,  and it  would need massive tax payer subsidies. Again there are many competing requirements for tax payer subsidies.

    However I do think theres a case for subsidising proper rotational grazing methods etc as best we can. Carbon taxes and cap and trade are too indirect to usefully promote your ideas.

    So yeah the rotational grazing thing still looks very useful to me and would sequester significant carbon, but you have to be realistic about what can be achieved in the real world. Don't over hype it. Sometimes selling an idea effectively requires being just a little bit understated.

  33. Since I have been accused of sloganeering and had my IPCC comment snipped...

    Here is the IPCC report: IPCC Report: Climate Change and Land

    The report states with high confidence that balanced diets featuring plant-based and sustainably produced animal-sourced food present major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.

    For context the entire paragraph

    B6.2. Diversification in the food system (e.g., implementation of integrated production
    systems, broad-based genetic resources, and diets) can reduce risks from climate change (medium
    confidence). Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods, such as those based on coarse grains,
    legumes, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and animal-sourced food produced in resilient,
    sustainable and low-GHG emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation and
    mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health (high confidence). By
    2050, dietary changes could free several Mkm2
    (medium confidence) of land and provide a
    technical mitigation potential of 0.7 to 8.0 GtCO2e yr-1, relative to business as usual projections
    (high confidence). Transitions towards low-GHG emission diets may be influenced by local
    production practices, technical and financial barriers and associated livelihoods and cultural habits
    (high confidence).

    This is integrated production models, not vegan diets and not as you said "reduced meat". It specifically says integrated which to a farmer has a very specific meaning. That means rather than monocropping and using those commodity feedgrains to supply the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation more commonly called factory farm) system , instead the animals are returned to the farm and the land and there they can fulfill their ecosystem functions for the farmer, usually in some sort of rotational system. Also please note these changes in production and consumption "could free several Mkm2
    (medium confidence) of land" This is because integrated farming systems yield much MORE food per acre, compared to the factory farming system. I will repeat, they yield more in terms of yields per acre, not less. Factory farms are only more productive in terms of yields per man hour. They do not yield more food per acre.

    Every one of those points Savory has repeatedly said over and over. And yet people with no knowledge of agriculture read the exact same paragraph and conclude meat consumption must drop.

    The key here is sustainably produced balanced diets. Yes in some cases that might mean less meat, in many cases around the world it actually means we need more meat to make properly balanced sustainable diets. Overall globally there are many more people who would benefit from more meat in their diet, not less. And if we change to integrated sustainably produced plant and animal foods, it will actually reduce the amount of land needed for agriculture, allowing large areas to be restored to the biomes present before human impact.

    Exactly yet again what Savory both advocates and has proven in his award winning proof of concept.

    “The number one public enemy is the cow. But the number one tool that can save mankind is the cow. We need every cow we can get back out on the range. It is almost criminal to have them in feedlots which are inhumane, antisocial, and environmentally and economically unsound.” Allan Savory

    PS There is an elephant in the room though. Right now we have all surplus commodity grains producing biofuels. Reducing land in food production by integration of sustainably produced plant and animal foods will not actually help at all if we continue to send all commodity surpluses for biofuel and other industrial uses. So even if you were right that reduce meat consumption was needed, it would not necessarily have the impact you envision. Land would still be deforested to fill this nearly unlimited demand. Even desertified land restored by holistic management would likely soon after be put to the plow to fill the demand for biofuels and desertify all over again.

    In my opinion this sort of industrial use must be either eliminated or highly discouraged or else none of the other issues will improve at all. It will become so much "shifting deck chairs on a sinking titanic". That last part is my opinion based on the current market dynamic. 

     


  34. RedBaron @39

    There's nothing inconsistent between my comments and your IPCC cut and paste, which doesn't define what the IPCC means by integrated. I mean its all fairly general but looks right in principle.

    You are giving your understanding of what integrated means. But yes ok integrated farming with less monoculture and more mixed types of farming and regenerative farming might increase meat production potential. I would need to see some published research on that. I do think regenerative farming is the way to go in general principle anyway.

    (I work in a design field, but I did a couple of years in quality assurance, and its made me very critical, sceptical and nit picky as I'm sure you would appreciate. But I make no apologies for that.)

    I've gone back and read my comment here : "So given rotational grazing uses more land than intensive corn fed dairy farming, its rather looks like lower meat consumption to me rather than higher meat consumption." There is no fault with this all other things being equal. The integrated farming methods you propose would offset this to at least some degree, but it doesn't make my original statement wrong in any way.

    I'm all for sustainably produced diets with some meat. The minimum recommendation is 60 grams of protein per adult per day and meat is a good source of protein. But many people in western countries eat far more than this, and perhaps some people in the third world dont get 60 grams but I'm guessing this would not be widespread. 60 grams is not very much, especially as a typical piece of fillet or sirloin steak is at least 100 grams.

    Vegetarianism is at the other extreme and doesn't make sense to me environmentally because we have vast tracts of grasslands that only really do suit cattle, so they would be challenging to turn into crop lands.

    The thing is we do need biofuels. They are about the only way to realistically get to carbon neutral air travel and shipping. Now I'm as nervous as you about vast areas of land  being vacuumed up for biofuel crops, but at least some land looks like its needed.

    If rotational grazing could be guaranteed to produce near miraculous levels of drawdown of atmospheric carbon, this might be a case to put "all our eggs in that basket" and say we dont even need biofuels and growing more forests, or things like BECCS, but the picture I get from all the weight of the research and commentary and articles on this website is that rotational grazing just has moderate benefits. I think higher than the harsher critics think, but less than you think.

  35. Red Baron,

    Replying to your comment at 31:

    As I said before, your links do not support your wild claims.  For example, your link to Project Drawdown.  To start off the page you linked does not talk about grazing at all.  It is your responsibility to provide correct links.

     After searching the site I found this page on managed grazing.  They claim that it might be possible to remove 16.34 gigatons of CO2 by the year 2050 using managed grazing.  At comment 29, you claim that managed grazing could remove 35 gigatons of CO2 per year every year until 2050.  Thus you claim approximately 65 times as much carbon dioxide fixed as your reference.

    The teraton initiative you linked appears to be a new project by a journalist and author.  He claims that the advantages of regenerative agriculture have not been systematically measured in the past and is trying to measure how much carbon is actually fixed.  All the pages I saw were about general agriculture.  I could not find a page on grazing.  Their calculations were all back of the napkin with no supporting science.

    The teraton initiative and you both make the mistake of claiming that if you remove the extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere the problem will be solved.  Reality is worse than that.  If you start to remove carbon from the atmosphere, carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean will outgas making the problem bigger.  Good luck.

    You made the wild claim at the start of this discussion (lost because it was posted on another thread off topic) that in the past year or two scientists have come around to your ideas in mass.  You have provided no link to even a review article, much less a summary report, to support this wild claim, not even one that does not support your claim.  The references in the OP are so recent it is unimaginable that scientists would have changed their minds en masse.

    We all wish that argiculture would be a magic bullet to solve AGW.  Agriculture might provide a wedge or two, but many other actions will be required to turn back the problem of CO2 pollution.  It does not help to motivate people to act if you falsely claim there is an easy way to solve the problem.

  36. No nigelj no one ever said we should put all eggs in one basket. Not IPCC Not Holistic management and not me.

    This apparently is a lack of communication.

    Potential for a sink size and rate does not mean that will be the actual any more than a 8 oz glass of water holds exactly 8 oz of water. This is the potential should all agriculture world wide adopt holistic management.

    Clearly the herculean task is in changing to regenerative practises. Very likely most the agricultural infrastructure will not change any time soon.

    But it is important to understand the potential, so when we say change maybe 10% of agriculture, a very reasonable and fairly easy thing to do, then we have 10% of that total potential we can count on.

    Too often people misuse the reports like the IPCC and others have put out and take numbers that have already been adjusted due to probable % of adoption, and adjust them once again! So rather than 10% we end up with people thinking 10% of 10%.

    The potential is as large as total emissions and could put us in drawdown if all was changed, but it won't be all changed any more than all fossil fuel emissions eliminated. 

    Neither one is going to happen.

    But if we meet somewhere in the middle with dramatically reduced fossil fuel emissions, the soil sink is plenty large enough and the rate of sequestration fast enough that we could reach a draw down scenaio.

  37. Red Baron @36, my reference to all the eggs in one basket only suggested that a miraculous (like really dramatic) level of results from rotational grazing would mean not needing biofuels. I made no reference to not needing anything beyond that, like not needing renewable energy. I think I was clear. And theres no evidence of miracles being likely but there is evidence of something useful.

    Since you at least appear to concede we need biofuels, this will place firm limits on land areas available for grazing, which was always my point.

    I agree with the rest of your comments. I tend to think there are questions about the long term sustainability of the industrial and corporate farming model, and also intensive dairy farming, particularly using feed crops. Something looks like it has to change, and the benefits to the climate might almost be a side effect of this broader level of change, if that makes sense. When there are a lot of reasons to do something, we should mostly just do that thing. We might be looking at a longer term agricultural transformation that goes well beyond 2050.

    I will leave it there, and I probably wont comment more on all this for now.

  38. Actually I did say biofuels, forestry and beccs, to be accurate. But they form a similar group of things and are different from the renewable energy issue.

  39. Biofuels are not good and part of the reason for AGW. 

  40. Here is even more independent confirmation that the rate of sequestration is reasonable and repeatable.

    Soil Carbon Sequestration and the Soil Food Web

    First a simple video made by Dr. Elaine Ingham explains what I have been posting about here for several years. Including the same rate of sequestration found all over the world well within the 5-20 tonnes CO2e/ha/yr found by Dr Christine Jones decades ago and confirmed by many others.

    And now Dr David Johnson tosses his hat in the ring as yet another independant researcher obtaining results in this same range.

    Carbon Sequestration A practical approach

  41. Preliminary results from Dr David Johnson

    Development of soil microbial communities for promoting
    sustainability in agriculture and a global carbon fix

    and a better video lecture explaining a holistic mitigation strategy that includes this ecosystem service.

    Managing Soils for Soil Carbon Sequestration: Dr David Johnson on Engineering Microbiology

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