Hope For Our Grandchildren in A Floundering, Leaderless World

If you are at all concerned for the future with today’s climate instability please read this to the end.  This is a short version of a recent talk that I feel is extremely important, to ensure any hope for my grandchildren and those of every other human. This will offer great hope in a time of deep concern, on many fronts, in a world that is confused and leaderless. We are facing grave dangers, in global desertification and climate change, along with many of the symptoms of desertification, such as, ever-increasing: droughts, floods, mega-fires, poverty, poaching, social breakdown, mass emigration to cities and across borders, violence and war.

These symptoms will be exacerbated as desertification and climate change feed on each other. Facing such dangers, our first question should always be:

What is the cause? 

According to our institutions, media and society generally, the biggest things to blame for climate change are: livestock, coal and oil.

No!  These simply cannot be to blame. These are resources and no resource can ever cause a problem. Only our management of resources can be the cause of any problems.

It is how we manage livestock that is causing the desertification of the world’s seasonally arid areas, which make up over two-thirds of our planet’s land mass.

It is management that calls fossil resources “fossil fuels” to be burnt at a damaging rate.

It is, without any shadow of doubt, management that is causing global desertification and climate change and all its many symptoms.

Who, apart from the Savory Institute, is acknowledging this reality? 

Forty years ago, we discovered that the management causing our problems is reductionist, and always has been. And we discovered how management could be holistic, in all walks of life, including policy development, which would begin to address the cause of all the symptoms we keep tackling, at enormous cost to us: in money and intime.

We have known how to reverse man-made desertification and begin addressing climate instability for decades. And we have long-demonstrated that doing so immediately and automatically begins to deal with the many symptoms.

Recognising the cause, and the ability to address it, for the first time in history, offers team humanity great hope for the future. Knowing this decades ago, we should have taken action immediately.  Just as, within just seventy years of the Wright brothers learning to fly, we put a man on the moon.

But despite far-sighted  officials in Washington, in the early1980s, arranging for me to provide training for two years for  2,000 people employed in US government agencies, World Bank and US universities,  with the intention of training thousands more if the demand was great…as people began to see hope, we struck an unexpected blockage. At the urging of influential academics from universities, all future training of government officials was banned. This effectively set us back more than 30 years – and this caused a log jam. Something that totally blocks all progress, until cleared.

Let me explain what it is and how only ordinary people, you and your family and friends, can clear this log jam, so that humanity can move forward to seriously address climate change.

Role of institutions:

We never deal with major issues as individuals, but always through our organisations, or institutions. We form organizations because it is the most efficient way to do many things. However, once formed, organizations take on a life of their own. They do not behave as an individual human would behave. Even when an organization murders thousands of people, it is not tried for murder, as you or I would be. Nor is any executive punished severely, no matter how much damage any organization has done, to humanity, our economy, or our environment. When an organization goes bankrupt the CEO is all too often rewarded with a multi-million dollar severance package, while thousands of people are out of work with no compensation.  Something no family business would do.

Organizations reflect the prevailing views of society. They lead the way with anything society believes in. For example, society believes in technology and in planting trees to address climate instability.

Accordingly, a Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for using technology to plant trees in Kenya, to address symptoms of desertification – despite the fact that no amount of tree planting could ever reverse desertification over most of Kenya, with the average rainfall being below300mm.

Organizations are self-organising and do not end when key people die, but simply re-organise. They are defined as Complex SoftSystems.

Everything in nature is defined as a Complex Natural System.

Together, nature and organizations, are everything that humans manage, from our families to governance, with minor exceptions.

Everything else in our material lives is what we make, rather than manage.

And all that we make, from a toothbrush, to space exploration vehicles, or electricity from solar, wind or any other source, is defined as a Complicated Hard System. By definition, nothing we make, no matter how complicated it is, is complex, because these things are not self-organising. They do not work if a part is missing, if fuel runs out, a battery goes flat, or if something breaks. Nothing we make is self- organising. Problems experienced with things we make are called ‘kind’ problems – which means that they are relatively easy to fix.

Things we manage, on the other hand, experience what are called ‘wicked’ problems, meaning they are almost impossible to fix: It took us over 10,000 years to learn how to reverse man-made desertification, and half a century later,      that is still disputed by some academics and our institutions remain inert.

And currently, climate change is a ‘wicked’ problem (as was desertification) incapable of solution by the institutions, upon which we rely. Like the cause of climate change, no one is talking about the ‘wicked’ problems of organizations. Institutions, having given us our knowledge of ‘wicked’ problems are not, as far as I know, doing anything further, despite the urgency of the dangers we face.

There are three organisational ‘wicked’ problems, which are resulting in the institutional log jam, that is endangering humanity:

  1. 1.  While organizations lead with any development aligned to society’s beliefs, they also lead any ridicule and opposition to new insights that are counter-intuitive, or paradigm-shifting (nothing has changed since Galileo!) No amount of facts, evidence, data, or number of lives lost, make any difference to organizations. They only accept the new insights when a significant shift in the public mind takes place. For this to happen, it can take a century or more, as we saw with the 200 years it took the British Navy to accept lime juice could end scurvy, despite its importance to Britain and over a million sailors dying.
  2. 2.  No matter how good, or intelligent, the people in any organization are, the outcome is often stupid– lacking commonsense and once aware of this problem, it is incredible how widespread it is. For example, ask any person if it makes sense for America to produce oil, to produce corn, to produce fuel. People laugh and say this is clearly stupid – but our institutions do it. And now large amounts are being invested by organizations in manufacturing artificial dead meat!
  3. 3.  Organizations seldom admit to error.  Rather, they circle the wagons and defend the organization, even when it goes entirely against their very mission. Think of the Catholic church and how they protected the pedophile priests, and not the innocent children.

Why there is no leadership, despite the dangers we face globally:

Organizations historically made major blunders, that were recognized as such. Organizational blundering on a vast scale was to end with the ‘Age of Reason’ in Voltaire’s time. The best minds of the time believed blundering on a major scale was clearly due to amateur leadership, because people could inherit, or buy, their positions in organizations. From that time on, there would be no more serious blundering, because organizations would be led by highly trained professionals, as they generally are today.

John Ralston Saul studied this situation and wrote his best-selling “Voltaire’s Bastards” in which he reports, with abundant evidence, that far from decreasing, global blundering increased greatly under trained professional, expert leadership. This we see today, culminating in agriculture being the most destructive extractive industry ever in history, and we see it with global desertification and climate change, which threatens civilization as we know it, while our organizations flounder and block any progress.

To quote Saul: “The reality is, that the division of knowledge into feudal fiefdoms of expertise has made general understanding and coordinated action, not simply impossible, but despised and distrusted.” 

People are increasingly appealing to politicians and governments to take a lead in addressing climate change, but I hope you see that research and history inform us why there is no leadership in this hour of need, nor can any institution lead. The world is floundering leaderless–there is no one at the helm!

There is NO possibility of leadership from politicians, universities, environmental organizations or the UnitedNations.

Now you know why there was no movement to begin reversing desertification, despite highly motivated, intelligent US officials doing their best so long ago. Institutions killed what intelligent people in those institutions were doing providing leadership.  At the time, we were all taken by surprise at the official banning of further training, instigated mainly by universities in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. And they are not alone, having been supported by environmental and cattlemen’s organizations ,all opposing HolisticManagement because it was a new insight, that was counter-intuitive and paradigm-shifting. I wish I was wrong, but I have not met a single scientist who argues these points. There is not a scientist I am aware of who has challenged these ‘wicked’ problems of organizations, Saul’s research, or any of the history that is available to anybody.

If it is only ordinary people who are to lead, what do we need to know? 

We need to know: what management options are available to humanity, and what each of us can do, personally, today.

Libraries of the world, and universities, are full of management books, giving the impression of a great many management options. However, if we ‘peel the onion’ and keep digging deeper into every management practice, we find that they are all built on the same fundamental foundation. This foundational framework is reductionist, and, being common to all tool-using animals, has been used by all humans for over a million years. It is a universal framework only discovered in the 1980s and it looks like this:

Intending to improve our lives, we take actions to meet our needs, desires or to address problems we face. We can only act by using some tool – and the only 3 tools humans have are:

  1. 1. Technology
  2. 2. Fire
  3. 3. Resting the environment (conservation)
  4. Only 3 tools, as we see.

The only other possibility known, is to use technology, to plant trees, to address climate change. We note here, that this is reductionist because we have always failed to see that everything we manage has inevitable social, environmental, political and economic consequences, in other words, it is all complex. We have always reduced this unavoidable web of complexity, to just meeting our needs, desires, or solving problems, as the reason, or context, for our management actions. That reduction of the web of social/cultural, economic, political and environmental complexity, is one reason for our centuries of failure in preventing the demise ofcivilizations.

Another is the fact that there is no tool here that can address global desertification and thus, ultimately, climate instability and change.

Note: Policy development is an aspect of management and even with the most sophisticated interdisciplinary teams, where every scientist is aware there will be social, environmental and economic consequences, the web of complexity is consistently reduced to the problem addressed, as the context for policy actions. The result, as we see, for example, with policies of the US on drugs, noxious plants, terror,  or immigration, is that ALL problems increase with many other unintended consequences. This is so common, we refer to it as the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Now, what is Holistic Management, that is currently the only known option? 

You work in WHOLE situations, by starting with the whole under management: the people, environment and money.

You avoid reducing complexity, by having people develop one over-arching holistic context, upon which ALL agree, and that reflects how we want our lives to be–which is tied to our life-supporting environment.

Because this is a new concept, here is a generic example: This would be the over-arching holistic context:

We want stable families, living peaceful lives, in prosperity and physical security, while free to pursue our own spiritual or religious beliefs.  We want adequate, nutritious food and clean water.  We want good education and health, in balanced lives, with time for family, friends and community and leisure for cultural and other pursuits. All to be ensured, for many generations to come, on a foundation of ethical and humane behaviour to all life and regenerating soils and biologically diverse communities, on Earth’s land and in her rivers, lakes and oceans.

We then go about determining actions to meet our needs, desires or solve problems, using all current science, scientific principles, or other sources of knowledge, but now with the holistic context as the reason for our actions.

We then use seven filtering questions, if in any doubt, to ensure actions (or policies) are in line with the holistic context, while meeting needs, desires or solving problems.

We add the missing tool, without which, it is not possible to stop man-made desertification, or address climate instability–this tool is livestock, with the Holistic Planned Grazing Process (or a better process when developed).

Now we know.

I have now pointed out why we are floundering leaderless, world-wide, with our institutions incapable of leading, or adopting the Holistic Management framework, in this hour of need. While our organizations cannot lead, individuals, like celebrities with millions of fans, could do so. Unfortunately, hundreds of celebrities, who have the best intentions, are jumping on the vegan bandwagon, vilifying livestock (blamed for climate change, when we now know it is management that is to blame) investing fame and fortune supporting the vegan movement, with some now also investing in the chemical production of meat, which will all simply lead to more unintended and environmentally damaging consequences down the line.

If, as I believe, we need to enable our institutions to develop policies and development projects holistically, using the holistic framework, and only ordinary people (including all those within institutions who are also private citizens) can lead, then let’s briefly see what we should address first, in such a vast sea of issues:

Where do we start? 

Agricultural policy by all governments—because we cannot have an economy, church, university, army, orchestra or government without agriculture, so that is the place to start. Remember, agriculture is not crop production, as many think it is. It is the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters. Our whole planet is now engaged in agriculture–fisheries, forestry, crops, livestock, wildlife and more. And most vital of all, no economy (capitalist or other) can sustain any community, or nation, ultimately, other than through the photosynthetic process–green plants growing on regenerating soil.

Any sane human knows agriculture should be based on biological sciences – but as we see that, because of‘ wicked’ problems, institutions have stupidly based agriculture on chemistry and the marketing of technology.

The unintended consequences of this are staggering. 

One statistic says it all – over 75 BILLIONS tonnes of dead, eroding soil every year is our greatest cropland agricultural product. That is twenty times the amount of dead, eroding soil as food needed for every human alive. Only 6% of our Earth is under crops, and only 20% of the land is arable. Ocean life is being obliterated: continental shelves, that are the most productive regions of our oceans, are being covered with silt and dying, and on the land, deserts are expanding, billions of hectares of grasslands burn every year, and millions of hectares of forests burn periodically – all having a profound effect on weather. Agriculture, dominated by our institutions, is unarguably the most extractive, destructive industry ever in history and a major contributor to desertification and climate instability, as well as rising health problems.

Apart from government agricultural policies, we need to address major policies of environmental organizations and development agencies, which are leading to both desertification and climate change.

Development projects:

If we look at the latest Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, we find that millions of institutional scientists developed them, unknowingly using the universal reductionist management framework. These SDGs can only lead to disappointment and further degradation because almost all attempt to solve the symptoms of desertification, while not accepting any tool that can address desertification.

Institutional stupidity, that makes no more sense than America producing oil, to produce corn, to produce fuel.

Remember that no one is to blame, because this is simply a ‘wicked’ problem of organizations. And we should not criticise any organization, or we risk it circling the wagons, like the Catholic Church, and going against their very mission. Difficult though it is, we have to distinguish between the behaviour of the organization and that of the many good, well-meaning people, working in the organization.

The World Bank has apparently just announced it plans to spend $200 billion on climate change, but not a single dollar will be spent addressing the cause. Once again, failure can be guaranteed, through no fault of any individual in the bank. Again, far-sighted intelligent officials in the World Bank spent considerable time  training in the use of the Holistic Management framework in the early 1980s and did their utmost to introduce it to the bank making no progress due to this wicked problem. They were as stunned as I was at the increasing demand for training from institutions resulting in banning further training.

What sort of agriculture is it that we need?

Organic? Sustainable? Grass fed cattle? Permaculture? Biodynamic? Mainstream factory animal production? Mono-crops based on chemistry?  Frankly, if we, as public, get into debating these different practices, it becomes a free for all and will take over 100 years to see change (if we heed the research and history). If we support various cropping practices, be they organic, permaculture or any other practice we believe is a good practice, based on biological sciences, you can be sure others will argue for their favoured practice. Even people promoting what they believe are organic, sustainable, permaculture or whatever good practice, end up competing for funds and validity of their“solution.”

And of course, most people remain apathetic, and so we will continue with essentially minor modifications, if any, to mainstream reductionist management and destructive agriculture.

It is just such public argument that leads to change taking up to 200 years or more.

All agriculture in the past was organic, or as we today describe it, sustainable. 

Most of us favour organic crop production and grass-fed beef. But that is what every civilization had before coal and oil were exploited. Yet,with nothing but sustainable, organic agriculture, civilizations failed in all regions of the world except lower Egypt, where it was maintained by the destruction of soil in countries higher up the Nile, providing annual silt in the delta, over thousands of years.

This is why we need a new, Regenerative Agriculture – a name I first heard in early 1980s from Robert Rodale.

An agriculture that regenerates communities, economies, soil, soil life and our environment. An agriculture that needs to play a great role in stabilising climate.

Regenerative agriculture, managed holistically, needs to be come the call and demand of the public, till institutions change.

What is regenerative agriculture and what does it look like?

 How do you describe it?  If we are not clear, this will become yet another cliché, or green washing-word, exploited by institutions continuing with reductionist management.

Agriculture will be regenerative when the management is holistic – usinga holistic context – to guide government and United Nations policies, as well as those of large environmental and other non-government organizations and development projects and management on farms, ranches, pastoral communities, forestry, wildlife and fisheries.

In every case, as soon as people stop reducing the web of complexity, and management is guided by their own holistic context, the best or most appropriate agricultural “practices” will automatically be adopted. This will literally mean the best of agricultural practices relevant in any setting – including things from mainstream agriculture and, of course, from small farmer traditional cropping, permaculture, organic, biodynamic etc. will be adopted. Practices in many cases, that if suggested, would produce conflict with today’s reductionist management and policydevelopment.

Some practices will be in context and therefore used in certain situations, while others would be out of context, and therefore rejected. For example, take a simple practice, almost universally advocated in permaculture – water harvesting, using earth swales. In situations where humidity was well distributed and desertification not occurring, such practices would often be found to be in context and therefore would be used. However, where desertification is occurring, such practices would be found to be out of context and therefore not used. So too with livestock: rotational grazing might occasionally be in context where desertification was not occurring, but would be out of context over most of the world where desertification has to be reversed.

So, if we are to define regenerative agriculture, it would be:

Regenerative agriculture is not any specific agricultural practice, but is agriculture managed holistically, embracing the most up to date science and practices, guided by people in their own holistic context and self-interest.

In every region and country, practices would be locally determined and in line with the people’s holistic context. Therefore, for them, socially sound, environmentally and economically sound and in their own holistic context and enlightened self-interest. I stress enlightened self-interest for two reasons: First, we will never prevent people acting in their own self-interest. Secondly, when people do develop a holistic context, they come to realise that it is never in their self-interest to damage our environment, or another human.

What can you, personally, do? 

Talk, read, learn and most of all, discuss the need for regenerative agriculture, using a holistic context, with friends, family and community. Use social networking for good, spreading the idea, until enough of the public are insisting and begin to help our institutions to change.

The same applies, especially to people working in any of our institutions, because you are also private, caring citizens with a family and, although you are powerless to prevent institutional stupidity, you can, in your private citizen role, enable institutions to change.

Do not argue, or claim any agricultural practice is the right one to“solve the problem of climate change”no matter how steeped you are in a specific practice today. By promoting a specific practice, you risk other people countering with their favourite practice, which will cause only slow, incremental change to take place.

Time is the one luxury our grandchildren do not have.

I urge you to discuss and push just two things that I believe no scientist, no academic and no institution can argue against: that management needs to be holistic and agriculture regenerative.

Can you imagine arguing in favour of management being reductionist and agriculture unsustainable?

If the public insist, then regenerative agriculture will become reality in the quickest possible time and we will begin seriously addressing desertification and climate instability.

For people already heavily engaged in organic, permaculture, agro-forestry, bio-dynamic, rotational or mob grazing, mono-cropping soy beans or any other practices, I know that what I urge will be difficult, because it is hard, while promoting any practice you are expert in, to mention that management needs to be holistic. Almost no one wants to be seen as promoting the work of another, because our egos are the greatest vested interest in the world – more powerful even than vested financial interests.

If only everyone would understand that HolisticManagement represents no specific agricultural practice, other than the Holistic Planned Grazing process, when livestock are added as a tool to enable us to address desertification. Holistic Management is simply a management framework, enabling anyone, in any walk of life, to manage the web of complexity and improve their life with far less fear of unintended consequences, while determining the best practice for them.

All of us need to be promoting regenerative agriculture. And all of us need to be promoting Holistic Management, which was developed by hundreds of fellow farmers, ranchers, scientists, pastoralists, helping me over the past sixty odd years.

If you are not a farmer but live in a city–you can still get involved in the growing regenerative agriculture movement.

Join those in the food and health movements by supporting regenerative agriculture. Look for the EOV (Environmental Outcome Verification) label on food and clothing.

Support any local agriculture that seems in line with the generic holistic context shown earlier. Look for the nearest locally led, and managed, Holistic Management hub in the global network of Savory Institute hubs, now on six continents, including even the first university-led hub in Michigan. (I long for the day when a city is adopting a local Holistic Management hub.)

Become a champion, giving talks and spreading knowledge of the hope that holistically managed, regenerative agriculture offers.

Above all, do not be apathetic, or you support the status quo, offering no hope for all of our grandchildren, in increasingly leaderless chaos. Just as we put a man on the moon within 70 years of learning to fly, so too we will see the human spirit fly, just as soon as we begin to address the cause of global desertification and climate change.

If just one billion dollars was invested in addressing the cause, we would see greater change for the good of all, than continued investment of trillions of dollars annually, in the reductionist policies and management of today, that is causing climate change.”

You owe it to your families, children, grandchildren, all our wonderful wildlife, on land and in the rivers and oceans, to talk to people until real, regenerative change follows.