Since I was a kid, the idea of greening the Sahara desert (and smaller deserts) looked immensely noble to me. Now, Anthony Watts became unusually excited about a particular approach to this goal, one that involves the propagation of cows (and some other, related or unrelated ideas).
It may be a good idea to watch it before we discuss it.
First, the talk was very persuasive but at the beginning, I wasn't repelled just by the phrase "reverse climate change" in the title of the talk. My disapproval continued at the beginning of the talk. In the first minutes, Savory said that having lots of people – e.g. 10 billion people – is the biggest problem of a sort, and so on. You probably know that I consider these "population limit worries" irrational.
The Earth hosts more than 7 billion people simply because the people were able to overtake the space, resources, and potential, and the Earth was able to offer them. As soon as at least one condition ceases to hold, the population growth may slow down or get reverted. There's no sign that any "global pressures" of this kind are already acting. The growing population isn't a cause of big problems in nearby future; it's a consequence of having no big problems in the past.
And you may remember some of my estimates suggesting that even with the current technologies and almost nothing new, the Earth could easily host 20 billion people. With the predictable propagation of evolved technologies, 50 billion or 100 billion don't seem to be a problem. Before you say that I am silly, you should realize that you are silly if you claim that these scenarios are impossible. The same invalid "no-go theorem" could have been said at any moment in the history – when the Earth hosted 1 billion people, 100 million people, or even fewer people. None of these predictions had any reasons to be right and none of them was right.
But let me get to the beef of the talk, the positive stuff.
I agree that the desertification is probably the #1 process that negatively contributes to the value of some land. About 2/3 of the Earth's landmass is something that could be called "desert" in a broader sense. The deserts may see lots of precipitation but the soil isn't covered and these huge amounts of water simply evaporate (plus other processes).
Even when there's some grass, the underlying soil may be bare and covered by algae, and this situation still leads to lots of undesirable evaporation. Cattle is generally believed to eat grass and contribute to desertification (methane farts indirectly pump the carbon atoms into the atmosphere which is also bad because the biomass "permanently" leaves the soil). In fact, the speaker himself once determined it would have been a good idea to shoot 40,000 elephants. The desertification got worse. He will carry the bad conscience to his grave, we hear. He decided he had to find a solution.
When he came to the U.S., he was shocked by some arid desert-like national parks. He was told it was natural. He wanted to prove that cattle caused the desertification but he found the opposite. Other "experts" attributed the desertification to unknown processes. Ordinary litter on the surface reduces temperature fluctuations.
He described the healthy ecosystem in which predators force the cattle to run from place to another place and uniformly s*it and p*ss at, or what are the polite verbs, the land. People replaced some of the processes with artificial fires that reduce the dead material and allow the plants to grow. He explains how bad this policy is, not only because the fires produce lots of toxins.
Fine, at 12:20, he proposes to emulate the bunched and running cattle by artificially moving livestock. Lots of it.
The lying grass with feces on it is able to store the humidity and carbon. So in his plan to compensate his genocide of the elephants, Savory is teaching pedagogically talented African women to teach how to bunch the animals and do other things. It seems to work: crop fields increase in regions treated in this way (which involve a five-fold increase of cows). The pictures look impressive. He literally turned deserts to something that looks like the Czech landscape. Sheep in Patagonia did something similar.
At 19:00 he mentions fossil fuels, but thankfully not as the largest problem. He still wants to eliminate fossil fuels but says it won't help. He also claims that the cow-treated de-desertification can lead to the absorption of CO2 and return the concentration to pre-industrial levels which I don't consider to be a good thing but greening 1/2 of the world's deserts would be more important.
I think it's common sense that if this treatment of flocks of animals makes the land locally fertile, they should do so. At the end, the host asks Savory what do the large flocks of animals eat if everything is dry to start with. I didn't understand Savory's answer. His talk was nice but I would still prefer a version of the talk that is stripped of tendentious claims about fossil fuels, the need to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere, and concerns about the population bomb.