What is desertification and how to fight it?
environment4change is a technology company focusing on building a Platform as-a-Service to enable the “clean up of our planet”. There is no doubt technology will play a huge part in cleaning up the planet of pollution, removing plastics from the waterways and oceans, assisting and promoting biodiversity, educating everyone on what science tells us is happening and what we can do to play our part in modifying habits to minimise future damage and bringing communities together to achieve all of this.
There's no question that we will only solve the problem of replacing fossil fuels with technology but fossil fuels, carbon, coal and gas are by no means the only thing that is causing climate change! Desertification is also playing its part.
What is desertification I hear you ask?
Wikipedia describes desertification as:
“Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes a desert, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as through climate change (particularly the current global warming) and through the overexploitation of soil through human activity. When deserts appear automatically over the natural course of a planet's life cycle, then it can be called a natural phenomenon; however, when deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable, then a virtual "soil death" can be spoken of, which traces its cause back to human overexploitation. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem with far reaching consequences on socio-economic and political conditions.”
So, rather than desertification meaning the literal expansion of deserts, it is a catch-all term for land degradation in parts of the world. This degradation includes the temporary or permanent decline in quality of soil, vegetation, water resources or wildlife.
We have environments where humidity is guaranteed throughout the year. On those it is almost impossible to create bare ground. No matter what you do nature covers it up so quickly. Then, we have environments where we have the months of humidity followed by months of drying. This is where desertification is occurring.
Did you know that roughly 66% of the land mass of mother earth is a risk of desertification? This isn’t well understood and should be a worry to us all. Having technology where we can view our planet from space, we can now see the proportions fairly well. Generally, what you see in green is not desertifying and what you see any other colour it is.
In Allan Savoy’s TED Talk, “reversing the effects of desertification,” Allan describes the characteristics of desertification. Bare earth that can not catch or retain water. Even after significant rainfall, the next day the ground is bare and dusty. Because the ground is bare (and damaged), there is no chance for any carbon capture. Carbon escapes into the atmosphere along with the water as it evaporates off. Even in a lot of the world’s tall grasslands having high rainfall, the grasslands soils are damaged as they are covered with a crust of algae leading to increased run off and evaporation.
If you were to ask most people what caused desertification, anyone who knew what desertification was would probably say it was caused by livestock mostly cattle, sheep and goats overgrazing on grasses, plants and other vegetation leaving the soil bear. This belief was widely heard as being true in the ecology / biology fields also. However, in the natural world where fact is often a lot stranger than fiction, this is also not true!
A review of national parks in the USA found the same desertification of land as in Africa, and there had been no livestock on this land for over seventy years. A review of all research plots in the whole of the western United States where cattle had been removed to prove that it would stop desertification also proved the opposite was true.
So – if it isn’t overgrazing of livestock, …what is causing desertification?
The Authors on the position paper on climate change attribute desertification to “unknown processes”. So, that not overly helpful either! Clearly, we have never understood what is causing desertification which has destroyed many civilizations and now threatens us globally.
According to Allan Savoy: “What we had failed to understand was that these seasonal humidity environments of the world, the soil and the vegetation developed with very large numbers of grazing animals and that these grazing animals developed with ferocious pack hunting predators. The main defence against pack hunting predators is to get into herds. The larger the heard, the safer for the individual. Now large herds dung and urinate all over their own food and they have to keep moving. It was that movement that prevented the overgrazing of plants while the periodic trampling ensured good cover of the soil.”
One suggested solution to desertification is to use livestock bunched and moving as a proxy for former herds and predators and mimic nature. There is no other alternative left to mankind.
In Africa today, African’s and teaching to villagers to put their animals together into larger herds and plan their grazing to mimic nature. Where they have them hold their animals overnight, they do this at crop fields getting very good increases in crop yield as a result.
Environment4change celebrate Allan Savoy for his 40 years plus to the cause of ecology and science in trying to understand the complexities of nature and the environment. If Allan is 50% correct, even if we move 100% away from fossil fuel usage, without addressing desertification, our planet could still in be serious trouble. Add to this the hunger, poverty, violence, social break down and war that is likely to become worse if desertification isn’t stopped. The solution of using livestock bunched and moving as a proxy for former herds keeping away from predators too mimic nature is a practical, low cost and technological solution that everyone can embrace. Imagine the carbon capture possibilities within our arid lands if we can restore them to healthy grasslands?
The wonderful news is that Allan’s theories are being put to good use in over 15 million hectares over 5 continents. Through the environment4change Platform as a Service (PaaS) Allan’s environmental entrepreneurship and the other best in global science and research will be tested, evaluated and if appropriate shared with the World. Funding will be sourced through the PaaS form around the globe. There is no ownership in fixing and cleaning the planet, it is something all mankind has an interest in and commitment to complete for the future of our collective kids.