Allan Savory: How to green the desert and reverse climate change

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes -- and his work so far shows -- that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

This TED talk struck me in a number of ways.

Firstly - the blinding simplicity of the idea once explained - which does tend to be the key to great ideas. I think his biggest challenge now is to spread the ideas, and to have more organizations pick them up and start to spread (which is one of the things that motivated me to add my blog to draw attention to the video). I won't spoil the story here by giving you the punchline so WATCH THE VIDEO, and if you want more information take a look at a more in-depth 1h talk on the concept on vimeo, or visit the SavoryInstitute, and read the commentary on the talk from FinchJ.

The idea was good enough to get the Savory Institute a place on the finalists list for the Virgin Earth Challenge.

Second - is the way he goes about presenting the idea, and effectively turning a common wisdom on its head.

He starts by setting up a perfect tension, or a challenge - 'The most massive tsunami, perfect storm is bearing down upon us' - and then outlines problem.

Then he moves into fleshing it out, and outlines that there is a solution... but he doesn't jump to immediately. He starts to delve into the problem step by step, one concept at a time.  He uses powerful images (once we all thought the world is flat) to delineate sections of the presentation, and then invites the viewer to follow him on his journey - making it personal, and telling it like a story.

Around half of the way through the presentation, he recaps the 3 solutions that won't work from the earlier section; then poses the question 'what are we going to do?', followed by a good long pause. He follows this with a 'There is only one option', which he repeats with emphasis before introducing his surprising solution.

Into the final part of the presentation, now he works through the solution step by step to explain more fully what led him to his solution, then presents a series pictorial examples, with statistics to show the merits of the solution.

To summarize - he finishes with his belief that this is the only solution to the problem; and that with broader adoption this solution has the potential to be the one practical, and achievable way to solve climate change in our lifetime.

The structure he uses is very much along the lines of the Beyond Bullet Points outline that I briefly blogged about in 2007, and have tried to follow in my work. It takes a great clarity of mind to work an idea into this sort of presentation, which I guess he has having worked on this for years. In the business context it only works if you're presenting to people face/face (not creating a presentation for email), and have the time to work a story through - but when you get the opportunity, it can be a really powerful way to get a message across.