Need to manage complexity in a holistic way. Need to change how we practice agriculture to restore soil and sequester more carbon in them. Create policies holistically and revolution in institutions.
Addressing complexity is hard. Need to recognize difference between complex and complicated. What we make is complicated; what we manage is complex.
Animals are important to good soil management. Grasslands co-evolved with large grazing animals. Cattle spread out over the land are destructive. That is why conservationists have often seen cattle removal as a key to grassland restoration but taking all the grazing animals off grasslands leads to soil degradation and desertification. The key is doing grazing right. In natural grasslands, grazers move constantly and in tight packs in order to avoid predators. Using this principle, we should use mob grazing. Large number of animals go onto a limited area. They eat most of the plants and trample others. This looks very bad, but the hoofs push seeds into the ground and produce depressions where water can be absorbed. The land quickly recovers when the animals move, and the biotic communities are more robust. The action for the animals, along with their manure, builds the carbon in the soil and makes it absorb more rain. It is a virtuous cycle.
Savory makes a distinction between brittle and non-brittle landscapes. The difference the amount AND the timing of the rain. Some places get plenty of rain distributed throughout the year. These are not brittle. Some places get enough rain, but it is seasonal. These can be brittle. Some places don’t get enough rain at all. They are often desert but can be managed.
In non-brittle places, it helps to “rest” the soil, i.e. take animals off and let it be fallow. This is almost exactly the wrong thing to do in brittle environments. Brittle grasslands will degrade if animals are not present for a long time. This is clear in protected parks, which do worse when they are protected.
We are easily fooled by short term observations. When we remove animals from a degraded pasture, the grass grows back strongly. It recovers. And we look at that and think the problem is addressed. But in the longer term, it declines. Experts rarely return to see that, and if they do, they blame other factors. It is counterintuitive to think that putting animals back will cure the problem of overgrazing, but it does help when properly done using holistic principles.
“Holistic Management” is a good book, but it drags a little. You can get the gist of it from Alan Savory’s TED Talk on the same subject. I finished a similar book called “Dirt to Soil” a couple weeks ago. The author of that book applies some of Savory’s principles to his farm in North Dakota.