Ecology & Land Economics
In a previous article, Grey Zone of Climate Economics, I left readers in a sort of state of limbo. This time around, we’ll escape this purgatory; and I’d like to thank Jane Karlsson for nudging me in the right direction. We’ll explore the problem of soil demineralization [desertification] and integrate remineralization plans, like those envisioned by John D. Hamaker and Allan Savory, within the National-Georgist economic framework.
In a TED Talk from six years ago, Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer Allan Savory brought attention to a phenomenon affecting approximately two thirds of the world’s grasslands – desertification. Savory warned that land destined for conservation is suffering from this too. His work not only debunks the idea that removing cattle from the land will renew it, but shows how societies can protect grasslands and reclaim desert areas.
Allan Savory confessed to a great mistake; that in the 1950’s he made the case for elephant population reduction, to what he calculated was the sustainable number the land could bare. His research was evaluated and approved by Government experts. In the following years, 40,000 elephants were shot. This abhorrent plan made the situation worse. Savory described it as “the saddest and greatest blunder of his life.” When he visited the USA’s national parks, he was surprised to find these places [cattle-free for over 70 years] suffering diversification on par with regions in Africa. American scientists had no explanation for this and considered such land “naturally arid.” Unsatisfied with the situation and seeking to repent for his ecocide, Savory noted that the migration patterns of large animal herds prevented overgrazing. If grassland doesn’t decay biologically from the wet to the dry season, it suffers oxidation – a slow process which kills grasses and leads to barren soil, releasing carbon. To prevent this phenomenon [to remove the dead matter and allow new plants to grow], humans have traditionally used fire; but this practice still damages the soil and unleashes great amounts of CO2.
Reducing the number of animals in order to rest more land contributes to desertification and climate change. Burning land contributes to the same thing. Savory proposes the “unthinkable”… bringing large herds of cattle onto these lands [mimicking nature] to trample the grass and leave in their wake a ground filled with mulch and animal litter. By doing this, the soil is ready to absorb the rain, store carbon, and break down methane. Planned grazing schemes [integrating the livestock movement patterns with the wildlife] were put to the test in Zimbabwe with great results. In the TED Talk, Savory shows before and after pictures, including from non-African regions like Mexico and Patagonia, with reports of 50 percent yield increase in the first year of deploying the scheme.
For zones like North Africa, West, Central, and North Asia, 95 percent of that land can only feed humans from animals. This represents most of the world’s land, and Savory insists that planned grazing, designed to mimic nature [the migration of large herds], a low cost solution, is the only hope against desertification.
Savory insists that via these “nature-mimicking” schemes, humans can trap massive amounts of carbon into the soil for thousands of years, and can even reduce atmospheric CO2 concentration to pre-industrial levels.
Moving on to John D. Hamaker (1914–1994)… he was an American engineer, ecologist, agronomist, and science writer in the fields of soil regeneration, rock dusting, mineral cycles, climate cycles, and glaciology. Hamaker believed that remineralizing the world’s soils and reforesting the land could lead to a geological zenith. This would assist the planet’s ability to geophysiologically self-regulate, and potentially, postpone the next glaciation. Rock dust nourishes soil micro-organisms whose protoplasm is the basis of all living things. When mixed with compost, the dust creates rich soils which produce high growth vegetation free from pests.
Scientists like Arden Andersen showed how high sugar and mineral levels in the soil gave it immunity to soil bacteria, stopping insect and fungal attacks. According to Hamaker, the Earth’s soil is demineralized during every interglacial period [period in which we’re in]. This causes a decline in the world’s forests and other vegetation, our natural CO2 sinks, and so more of it is released. Sunlight heat trapped by ever growing levels of CO2 alongside other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere affect the planet’s climate. Hamaker explained the 100,000-year cycle of major ice ages by postulating the greenhouse effect takes place mainly in the tropics, which receives the most sunlight, instead of in polar regions. When temperature differences between the poles and the tropics increase, a cycle of heavy wind, hurricanes, storms, and tornadoes is set in motion. More evaporated moisture is carried to higher latitudes where it is deposited in ice and snow, leading to glaciation and another ice age. As glaciers advance and recede during each ice age, they grind down rocks in their path. The mineral-rich dust is distributed over the Earth’s surface via wind and water networks, remineralizing soils, renewing flora and fauna.
The prescriptions of Hanaker and Savory make total sense, pass the traditional cost-benefit analysis, are thus quantifiable, and do not involve cessation of national sovereignty, regressive carbon taxation, or pernicious emissions trading schemes. I also support limited geo-engineering efforts, specifically the use of silver iodide as a cloud-seeding agent to catalyze new and or struggling ecologies by encouraging the production of rain. Environmental impact studies related to silver iodide usage in cloud seeding began in the ’60s and persist today; all findings to date indicate no adverse environmental and human health impacts.
Speaking of human health… a UK national study on the depletion of minerals from foods between ’41 and ’91 reveals that it is indeed a serious issue. Vegetables in the UK have lost 75 percent the copper concentration they had back in 1940. One consequence in many of this element’s shortage from our diets is revealed in a study from 2017, which found a strong link between Alzheimer disease and severe copper deficiency [52.8 to 70.2 percent] in all brain regions affected by the illness. This stuff is serious and one doesn’t need to be an adept of climate eschatology to acknowledge it. More so, one doesn’t have to embrace social-darwinism, neo-malthusianism, primitivist lifestyles, or fickle, low energy flux density power generation as a solution [which they are not].
Now let’s tie all this into heterodox economics. Under Land-Value Capture [the Georgist Single Tax System] putting sections of previously productive land into the category of nature conservation and soil renewal is the perfect way to hit multiple birds with one stone. On top of all the gains in efficiency and productivity [due to taxing economic rent and untaxing wealth creation], we protect nature and our health by remineralizing the earth. We take away the fiscal burden from disadvantaged farmers, who – under the present regressive tax system – have no choice but to employ all their land for cultivation in order to pay the bills. We drastically reduce the issue of food overproduction [which remains unsold, and part of it gets turned to fodder while part of it goes to garbage sites]. We protect and enhance the quality and yield of our food supply. The New Silk Road, the Westphalian, multipolar system has to include ‘greening desert’ projects among and between sovereign participants, which will create jobs, new living space, improve the overall biosphere, solve conflicts, and strengthen the Brotherhood of Man.