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Allan Savory @ PV1 - "Why management needs to be holistic to avert tragedy beyond imagination"

Posts: 3677
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Me again!

So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the Permaculture Voices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended.

I will share them here with you!

Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.

My next notes document is Allan Savory. The topic this time was "Why management needs to be holistic to avert tragedy beyond imagination"


Allan Savory

It hit me in 1984, I’ve hit the tip of the biggest iceberg imaginable. It’s so simple. . . .

There is no “the answer.” There are millions of solutions. What I’ve hit upon is a way for you to decide what is the right answer, for you, right now.

Management needs to be holistic, embracing science and other sources of knowledge.

It’s wonderful to follow that talk by Geoff (permaculture earthworks). You can see that what he does works. You can’t argue with that.

Every farm is unique, like a fingerprint. Even more unique, because the land is changing all the time. The complexity is enormous. You can’t step into the same river twice—it’s flowing.

We will begin with agriculture, because without that we can’t have an orchestra, a church, an army. Without that we are all hunters and gatherers.

Pic: she needs 1/2 ton of food a year. We are losing 10 tons of soil to make that half ton of food. This is bankrupting us.

Agriculture is the production of food and fiber, not just growing crops. When we look at agriculture, it is causing the droughts, the dust storms, the wars, all of it. It’s so much more destructive than the mining industry, but we don’t talk about that.

“The Watchman’s Rattle” by Rebecca Costa (recommended book) says that civilizations fell because they couldn’t deal with the increasing complexity and shifted to faith versus knowledge.

When so much goes wrong, over so many thousands of years, with so many brilliant people. This is not a problem of lack of knowledge. It’s a systemic problem.

Long list of things: it’s all things we make, using fire and technology. (You need fire to make the machinery). These things are complicated, but they do what they’re intended to do. They are not self organizing.

So, in this way, we’re doing well. We can put a man on the moon. However, you need to look at the consequences.

Another long list: things we manage. These things are complex, as opposed to complicated. They have unexpected consequences. Those can become wicked problems, almost impossible to solve. These things are self organizing.

There’s nature’s complexity and the complexity of human organizations. This is where we’re running into trouble.

Rebecca Costa’s idea is that the only way we can deal with this complexity is to evolve your (our) frontal lobes and develop rapidly to save ourselves. I don’t agree with her. I don’t think we can evolve that fast.

Another recommended book: Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul. People thought we could save things with a meritocracy versus aristocracy in the age of Reason. Saul notes that the blunders increased under “professional” leadership. In all fields.

“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.”

The differences between jargon of different specialities can be greater than the differences between languages.

I heard Gro Harlem Brundlandt speak in Switzerland (ed: ? Davos) and she pointed out how so much is being spent on problems and things are getting worse. Can’t we bring things together, see the connections? Everybody nodded.

I was skeptical, spent some time laying out cards on the carpet with problems and I saw they weren’t interconnected. They all came from one source: (ed: what? what?!)

I’m going to take this right down to utter simplicity.

Let’s look at the wardrobe. Let’s look at the water the fishes are swimming in.

Every human makes conscious decisions. every one has an objective, has goals etc. We use various tules and technologies to achieve our objectives. We decide what to use via many factors (experience, cost, etc) This is how we make decisions.

We are a tool using animal. We’ve got incredible creativity, labour, money, but without tools we can’t proceed. You can’t even drink water without some tool, some technology.

So, we think there are millions of tools, there aren’t. We aren’t the only tool using animal (pics of different animals with tools). Two of us (raven with bent wire) have learned to alter material to make tools.

About a million years we got the use of fire. About half a million years ago we learned to make fire.

We have ONE tool, technology.

At some point, someone decided that we have another tool: we can rest the land.
We also started using micro-organisms to do things for us. That’s it, that’s the toolbox.

Resting land/conservation
Small living organisms

Back to the map. The only tool that can restore biological decay is animals (per Alan). He feels he is adding a tool to the above list.

So, we worked on using livestock, but there’s more than just that. We have to deal with the people, the economy.

What is there about objectives/goals/visions that is causing the problem?
An objective needs a context. An objective without a context is a loose cannon.
Say I told you I wanted to start fires? Is that a good idea? (ed: IT DEPENDS!) You need to know the context.

You have to consider the context.

What is the context for every policy formation? By any government?
If your context is too simple, you will be awash in unintended consequences. (example, the war on drugs)

This is the hardest thing to discuss, over the last 50 years. There was nothing in any religion, in any philosophy, in any branch of science, to help us figure this out. In 1984, we got it, and from there on out, we’ve been able to see consistent results.

Holistic Context
When we came up with this term, people began to get it.

It’s a clear definition of how YOU want your life to be, tied to your life supporting environment.

How do we want our lives to be like?
prosperous, stable family, community, peace and security, religious freedom, good education, health, etc

What will produce such lives?
profit, full and meaningful employment (of everybody in society - a hungry man knows no boundaries), a tolerant society, abundant nutritious food, water, etc

This needs to happen now, not two years from now.

What will our resource base have to be 500 years from now to enable our descendants to live such lives?
High biodiversity, effective water cycle, high solar energy flow to all life, fully covered soils

You’ve really got to take the long view, look at the big picture.

Now, we have a context. Nothing is prioritized, because we’re not making decisions, we are making a context. We’re not putting a prejudice on a future action, because no action should be judged.

Now that we have the big picture, now we can look at the various coat hangers in the wardrobe and choose.

We have 10 filtering questions that we train people to use, to make sure that your actions are right for you. To give you an enlightened self interest.

Geoff showed us today swales and so on. You can’t argue with that. I grew up with a father who was **** (ed: missed it)

Look at it in context, in a specific case. You have to look at unintended consequences. It’s not a criticism of the technique.

Look here, in Israel. Very intelligent country, trying to do something about desertification. They are using earthworks to channel water and then grow trees. This is costing them 10,000 euros/hectare. This is enormously expensive. (Pic, tiny trees in hollows on bare soil, in rows, widely spaced, no support species that I can see)

Back in the day, there were tremendous grasslands here, with millions of animals. We need to go back to that.

What are the consequences of this (tiny tree) development? First, they are removing the Beduoin’s sheep, to settle these people, they’re putting them in towns. They’re paying them an allowance, based on how many children they have. . . Now, the average age in those towns is 12! This is an amazing recruiting ground for guerrilla/terrorist organizations. . . We’ve just got to take a bigger horizon. Sometimes it will be exactly the right thing to do, sometimes it won’t

If you ever tell someone that something is the wrong way, you will create resistance. They have to deduce this themselves.

Genetic decision making doesn’t look at context adequately. Holistic decision making looks at the holistic context, and adds in the additional tool of livestock.

Where does holistic management fit into A, B, or C? It doesn’t. It’s the wardrobe, not a hanger.

Example: what can we do to save the rhino? So many different ideas, all these ideas are reductionist. The only context is “rhino is endangered.”

If you ask the people who live with the rhino “who owns the rhinos” they will tell you the rhinos are owned by the WWF, the government, the other NGO’s. If somebody come up and offers them $5000 to shoot a rhino, sure, they will do that.

Until we get the people to see that THEY own the rhinos, they are doomed.

Let’s look at agriculture. Most are promoting monoculture, GMO, industrial. Then you’ve got permaculture, biodynamic, organic, regenerative, etc. Meanwhile, the ship is sinking.

To even the playing field, you need to bring in holistic policy formation. Now, the good things will have a better chance.

Example, recently I had the chance to put 35 members of the parliament in my country through an exercise. I shared with them that their biggest problem is overpopulation and ecological degradation. This was people from all sides. Parties that are killing each other, much worse than your D’s and R’s here. We worked first on a holistic context. After we had that, we were Zimbabweans working together.

So, once we had a context, saw that we wanted to encourage food production. We don’t want a lot of bureaucracy. How about we don’t charge income tax to farmers. Instead we can charge a land tax. If you employ people, your land tax is reduced. We want diversity, no monocultures. Well, if you produce more products, we lower your land tax. If we want to see how well the land is doing, check the water that’s running off your farms. If the water is of higher quality, your land tax goes down. We haven’t told a single person what to do. Get the government out of people’s lives.

We’ve got to stop this nonsense of today where laws are stopping even common sense changes on farms. There has never been a single incidence where an organization has been able to accept a change before public opinion. (ed: I would offer the racial integration of the military as a counter example)

We need to change public opinion. As soon as we get this simple message out. . .

Q: what is that simple message? (this from your humble editor, who really wasn't quite getting it. . . )
A: just to look at things holistically. To make your decisions in the context of what you want (in the long term). Story about a lady who went through the holistic context exercise, at the grocery store, in line with her stuff, realized that half the stuff in her basket was not as important as sending her son to school, etc. Went and put the stuff back on the shelf.

Q: are there resources you’re developing to demonstrate the process?
A: there’s stuff in the textbook, not the handbook. I’m working with Fletcher Policy school in Boston (?) on this. I’m working on a simple book, written in ordinary language, about good governance. To explain why no government is capable of performing well today. I was thinking I was original, and then I realized George Washington said the same things over 200 years ago.

Q: I see problems that are based on a lack of ethical, spiritual awareness. Maybe what you’re saying is that seeing things holistically is to realize how much our own happiness depends on the happiness of others.
A: I think the great power of holistic management is to harness the power of people acting in their own self interest. If you can get people to see things holistically, they will say “Oh my god, it is NEVER in my own self interest to damage another person or the environment.

Q: so what happened with the mp’s?
A: well, they said it needed to be handled at the cabinet level (ed: passing the buck up the food chain). No, what we worked out is still just theoretical. No government will be able to change like they need to without the people demanding it.

Q: how CAN we change things?
A: Don’t focus on the corporations. Focus on the public. Your neighbors, your community. The tipping point isn’t at 50%, it’s before, maybe 20-30%. Don’t tackle the corporations, tackle your neighbors.
Q2: our neighbors have been the hardest ones to reach. My mother is the hardest one to reach.
A: yes, that happens. Then, just go beyond. Sometimes if it comes back around to them it works that way.

If you meet resistance, like a stream hitting a boulder, just flow around it.

Q: what do you think the tipping point is.
A: I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and I’ve done so much, and what I can tell you is that 20 minutes on tape (ed: the TED talk) going out to 2.5 million people, has done so much more than many other things.
Julia Winter
Posts: 3677
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
hugelkultur urban chicken food preservation bike bee
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Allan recently spoke about this same topic, and here's the video.  Having just watched the video, and reading through my notes above, I can see a lot of overlap, which makes sense.  The problem is still reductionist thinking, and the solutions are still holistic.

Sadly, he has no slides with this.  On the bright side, that means you could listen to it while doing something with your hands, like a podcast.
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