biosphere processes

basic ecosystem functions

Allan Savory's TED talk

Seth Itzkhan has put up some of the photos that Allan uses in this talk, with some background and location information.

Las Pilas ranch (above):

Other examples:

Reversing desertification

A recent video presentation at TEDx Somerville Massachusetts by Seth Itzkan, with slides from his trip to Dibangombe, Zimbabwe.

Ocean currents

NASA recently put out a lovely video showing ocean currents over time. While human decisions may not affect ocean currents very much, human decisions certainly affect carbon and water cycling. While carbon and water cycling are difficult to see, as complete cycles, the ocean current video may serve as a kind of visual representation, with a similar kind of turbulence or fractal geography, if you will. Click the picture below for one version of the video.

Two stories

In my engagements with people and groups of people around the carbon cycle, I encounter beliefs that appear to be stages along a continuum. The following diagram and table is not intended to be a simple judgment of good/bad, but is an attempt to give context to ongoing shifts in beliefs by describing or signposting the endpoints of the shifts. This description is always rough and premature.

On earth, we have solar energy coming in and longwave radiation or heat going out.

Life is a passenger on a basically dead planet, with humans an aberration or disturbance.   The biosphere does work, a lot of it. Life is the most potent geologic force.
Creation was a long time ago, and the earth has been degraded since then.   Creation is now.
You can't unscramble an egg.   A hen can unscramble an egg.
The world, and life, consists of things, which we can divide into good and bad, and act accordingly.   The world is primarily processes and relationships. How are they functioning?
Input-output system. Greed and scarcity rule.   Carbon and water cycling are emergent: the result of the decisions, choices, and metabolisms of trillions of self-motivated, autonomous organisms, most of them microbes.
Manage the carbon cycle with emissions control and carbon "sequestration."   Enhance and maintain healthy soils, using current solar energy.
Structure of knowledge gives leadership to expert, concentrated power, often based on rules.   Knowledge can be localized, flexible, adaptable.
Manage against problems.   Manage toward desired results.
Try to achieve change by threats and predictions, and make people do the right thing.   Change by creating new models that make the old ones obsolete. Let people do the right thing.
Let's wreck the world slower (or faster). Time is a cost.   Time is an opportunity to maintain and restore function.

Emerging findings in earth systems and biology tend to shift us toward the right but in many cases we continue to interpret things from the left side. The insights on the right are in many cases quite old, but these shifts are often slow to occur, and we can straddle the gaps for centuries.

It's not about right or wrong here, or blame. How do these approaches function? Where does the greatest opportunity lie, for moving toward what we want and need?

Next Blog Post from Seth Itzkan in Zimbabwe

Hut With a View - 9/27/11

Blog entries from my visit to the Africa Center for Holistic Management, Zimbabwe.

see also


The soil surface

Bruce Ward from Australia on the soil surface

Carbon cycle, parts 1 and 2

The first two segments of a video presentation/animation of the carbon cycle.

Part 1

Part 2

Brittle and nonbrittle environments

A new measure of ecosystem function, vital in understanding seasonally dry ecosystems and reversing desertification.

Why management that helps some landscapes harms others

Index of articles and links

Brittleness is a fairly new measure of ecosystem function that allows us to match land management to what each landscape needs.

Desertification--what it is and how to fix it

Why conventional "solutions" fail to reverse desertification; proven methods that work.

Index of articles and links

Desertification is an age-old problem. Since writing was invented, people have lamented landscape damage and urged better care of the land. Despite the march of science and billions spent to combat desertification, the world's deserts continue to grow.

What is desertification?

Fundamental ecosystem processes and how they work: articles and links

Basic knowledge to help you manage ecosystems successfully.

Index of articles and links

By understanding and monitoring a few fundamental processes that operate in every ecosystem, we can simplify the complexity of natural systems enough to manage natural resources skillfully.

Allan Savory
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