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Regenerative anti-desertification vs plant more trees: why does Regenerative feel more promising?

There have been, and continue to be, many efforts to plant trees to combat climate change. Where they work, I support them. These efforts will not work in places with infrequent rain, and that's where regenerative land management comes in.

You may have watched Alan Savory's TED talk, "How to fight desertification and reverse climate change", like I did, and gotten really excited about holistic land management, aka regenerative, and its power to heal our world. I highly recommend you watch it.

Let's break down why regenerative land management (regen) is such an exciting approach:

Why can't we just rest the land to let it heal?

When land in environments with too little rain is left without animal impact, the perennial grasses die during dry periods, and remain standing. The still-standing dead grasses do not decompose because there is too little moisture. They block the sun and do not allow as many new grasses to grow. The rains come, and falls on predominantly dead grass. The rain washes away the soil, and the dead grass, leaving bare dirt. The next rainy season, the water lands on bare dirt, does not absorb into the land, and instead evaporates or forms flash floods. Quantities of water sufficient to nourish the land for a year can disappear in just a few days.

How does regenerative land management work? What are the mechanisms?

What are the inputs to regenerative land management?

Low inputs mean more scalability.

Holistic land management is all about addressing the root cause of climate change, not just mitigating the symptoms. Got weeds? Don't use pesticides and waste thousands of dollars just to have them grow back in a few months. Instead, let sheep, goats, or even cattle eat the weeds. Cattle don't want to eat weeds? Spray a solution of molasses (which cattle love) and those weeds will disappear. Cattle will even eat and enjoy cactus, although you might need to help them by cutting it up first.

The regenerative movement

The Savory Institute has created a hub and spoke model to adapt holistic land management to every part of the world, in ways that satisfy the goals of the people living there, ensuring its success. I donate every month to the Savory Institute, and they've regenerated over 30 million acres since 2009. We've still got a lot of desert and a long way to go, but I'm very optimistic about the approach.

Land to market and ecologically verified carbon sequestration

The Savory Institute has just launched a new program, in partnership with brands like Gucci and Timberland, to sell leather products made from carbon-negative cows. The Savory Institute visits ranches on a regular basis, measuring organic matter and water infiltration all across the property to assess how much carbon was sequestered in the soil.

I hope this article or the videos I've linked have given you some hope for our future. Maybe you'll feel like donating too, or maybe you'll share Alan's TED talk with your rancher friend, or just explain how this all works to someone over drinks. Maybe, just maybe, you'll convince your company and its data centers to go carbon neutral or negative, or match employee donations.

To the health of our land & planet,
David Trejo
Email me ✉️

Follow-up resources

White Oak Pastures regenerative beef sequesters 3.5lb CO2 per pound of meat sold

David Trejo

Engineer at Chime & consultant. Past clients include Credit Karma, Aconex, Triplebyte, Neo, the Brown Computer Science Department, Voxer, Cloudera, and the Veteran's Benefits Administration.