Nature’s Warped Wizardry

» April 2nd, 2013

What gets me most is the arrogance. I’m currently researching a rebuttal to Allan Savory’s now viral TED talk about holistic grazing. Maybe it’s the TED format talking, but even the mere notion that a single human being could, as Savory insists he can, take into account “all of nature’s complexity” in what’s at best a freewheeling agricultural experiment affirms the desperation hiding beneath the almost comically bold proposal to reverse global warming and end starvation in Africa.

The phrase that Savory uses over and over—”mimicking nature”—is, as I read it, little more than a cover for the newest form of destruction and animal exploitation. If this is what it means to be an environmentalist, count me out. This is the tyranny of ecology.

From the macro to the micro: I listened to this story yesterday on NPR and commented that “this must be an April Fool’s joke, nobody would allow sharpshooting in Rock Creek Park.” Way wrong on that. Deer have been deemed by the USDA to be overabundant. This overabundance has, according to the official line, threatened native plant species while favoring invasive ones.

While minimal evidence is provided for this claim, there’s ample evidence of suburbanites sent into high dudgeon by deer nibbling their gaudy shrubbery. “They eat everything,” one botanically besieged neighbor said. “Don’t even think about tulips. They’ve eaten them down to the nub.” This, of course, is the tyranny of stupidity.


PS: Thank you so very much to those of who who sent me studies critical of the Savory talk. Very, very helpful.



22 Responses to Nature’s Warped Wizardry

  1. ingrid says:

    James, I referenced this article in a separate comment, in another discussion here, but what’s happening in Rock Creek Park is, yet again, an operation involving the notorious Wildlife Services. For any readers here who have not yet seen the recent exposés on this agency, Tom Knudson’s three-part series in the Sacramento Bee last year is an important (and heartbreaking) place to start:

  2. Nick Pokoluk says:

    Isn’t arrogance what most meat eaters display.

  3. markgil says:

    “Aren’t humans amazing? They kill wildlife – birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed. Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative – and fatal – health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for “Peace on Earth.”~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates

    • Ellen K says:

      Mark, you’re a treasure trove of these resources: I quote the older version in a collection of books, articles, websites, films, etc., to send to people but didn’t know about — and prefer — this revised preface with its line about Christmas cards. Thanks.

      • markgil says:

        thanks Ellen! i find it amazing that so much truth and wisdom can be condensed in a few words or phrases so i try to collect quotes and share them whenever possible. i am glad you appreciate them as much as i do.

  4. I just watched Savory’s TEDx video, and was appalled at his ignorance of desert ecology, and of the difference between “desertified” grasslands, and actual deserts. Only someone animated by arrogant ignorance of ecology would describe cryptobiotic crust as a “cancer.”

    Here’s a tip, Mr. Savory: the deserts of the American Southwest are an ancient collection of delicate biomes displaying more biodiversity than any of your fields in Africa. Your large herds of ruminants would ruin them.

  5. CQ says:

    The sad photo says all I need to know — and more than I wanted to know.

    Your use of the words “arrogance” and “tyranny” stirred in me an urge to consult a dictionary. On the Merriam Webster website I found these definitions, synonyms, and related words (which I’ve edited slightly to make easy to skim):


    1 exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance often by an overbearing manner
    2 showing an offensive attitude of superiority: proceeding from or characterized by arrogance

    A sampling of synonyms: cavalier, chesty, haughty, highfalutin, high-and-mighty, high-handed, imperious, lofty, lordly, masterful, overweening, pompous, presumptuous, pretentious, self-assertive, stiff-necked, supercilious, superior, uppity

    A selection of related words: authoritarian, bossy, dominating, domineering; condescending, disdainful, patronizing; boastful, bombastic, braggart, bragging, cocky, swaggering, vain, vainglorious; complacent, conceited, egocentric, egoistical, hubristic, narcissistic, prideful, self-applauding, self-centered, self-complacent, self-conceited, self-satisfied, smug, stuck-up; self-flattering, self-loving, self-promoting


    1 oppressive power, especially oppressive power exerted by government
    2a a government in which absolute power is vested in a single ruler
    2b the office, authority, and administration of a tyrant
    3 a rigorous condition imposed by some outside agency or force
    4 an oppressive, harsh, or unjust act

    Synonyms: absolutism, autarchy, authoritarianism, autocracy, Caesarism, czarism (also tsarism or tzarism), dictatorship, totalism, totalitarianism, despotism

    Related Words: monarchism, monarchy, monocracy; Big Brother, Big Brotherism, Communism, fascism, Nazism; domination, oppression

    The definitions are similar to those Noah Webster gave when he published his 1828 dictionary (

    Maybe Noah was envisioning the tyranny of taste buds (the absent referent in Savory’s TED talk) and the arrogance our human exceptionalism (exemplified in the “cull” of supposedly destructive, diseased deer) as he sat at his desk, writing with his (goose-or-turkey-feather) quill pen by the light of his (cow-pig-or-chicken-fat) candle or (whale-blubber) oil lamp.

    • CQ says:

      “… and the arrogance *of* human exceptionalism…”

      • John T. Maher says:

        Exactly. Only the problem is TED is arrogance for lightweights on the mass scale of the electronic Chautauqua. Anyone who claims they can understand “all of nature’s complexity” would be laughed out of academia and can not have any credibility. Have you noticed that the hope TED sells is the equivalent of religion? Why do humans feel the need to believe in nonsense they can not understand?

    • Aurelia says:

      Curious that you relate monarchy with tyranny, not quite in the same category purely by definition.

  6. Bea Elliott says:

    How horribly sad (and arrogant) to murder deer for the want of tulips. And to destroy the environment for the want of “beef”. Someday when we have to pay for our thoughtless actions – It won’t be pretty at all.

  7. Aurelia says:

    I find it interesting that the word arrogant has been picked as the buzz word of this topic. It essentially describes the base attitude of the majority of human beings yet doesn’t really do them justice. I prefer ‘selfish’ myself, because it fully embodies everything that is wrong with the human race. On the topic of language, it’s interesting to see how much the use of inflammatory language increases the more bored we become as a society. In a frontier state were everyone is far too busy trying to survive to be bored the spoken word is rarely used and only in the most simplistic terms. The more culture evolves the more bored we become and the more people use inflammatory language to excite each other and give them the adrenaline rush they’re missing. I like Bea’s last comment, the idea that karma will make us pay or some deity or other, in theory this will happen as it has before but it’s not really about paying for our sins so much as the natural cycle of things. All great civilisations rise, plateau, sink into depravity and fall; history shows us as much. The true arrogance belongs to those who believe it won’t happen again, that it won’t happen to us.

  8. Barbara says:

    Just found this site–thank you for developing a rebuttal to Savory–that man’s proposal is SCARY. A concise, sensible, scientific rebuttal is critical. Looking forward to seeing it.

  9. I realize I’m a little late to the party on this, and did a fair amount of critiquing in the video comments of the Savory video. He should have been laughed out of the auditorium for starting his talk with the “ONLY possible solution” for a complex situation. WOW.

    So, here are a couple of other articles critiquing his talk:

    This one is a different tact, but a criticism none the less: .

  10. CQ says:

    Thanks to one and all who have posted links to scientific rebuttals of Savory’s TED talk.

    I hope Dr. Richard Oppenlander, who authored the book “Comfortably Unaware: global depletion and food responsibility … what you eat is killing our planet,” writes a comeback to Savory (I’ve been sending his press agent all the responses cited here).

  11. My take on Savory’s TED talk, for what it’s worth, is here (I hold M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Range Science):

  12. CQ says:

    Your take is worth a ton! As I read your thorough debunking of Savory’s outlandish ideas and of his “command-and-control” tactics that have caused many TED listeners to treat him like the next messiah, I couldn’t help but think of the line, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

    Though attributed to P.T. Barnum, it seems to be from an unknown source:

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