Think Different.

Apple Computer launched an ad campaign featuring this grammatically controversial slogan in 1997. Apparently Steve Jobs and his Apple confreres took their own rhetoric seriously. They launched the iPhone in 1997. Today, a mere decade later, a third of the humans on the planet Earth are equipped to read these words instantly.

Will 2.67 billion people now Think Different or, more to the point, behave different? Well, maybe not right away, but the rapid spread of information creates new possibilities.

Which takes us to geoengineering, climate change, and grazing.

To summarize, we humans have geoengineered the heck out of our planet. We started way before the industrial revolution, probably around the time of the stone tool revolution. One of the things we did was replace vast herds of wild ruminants with domestic livestock, suppress predators, change the grazing pattern, and start a process of converting grasslands into deserts. Today we have gone far down this road. With a boost from global warming, deserts are expanding rapidly across Africa, the Middle East, Eurasia, Patagonia and Australia. About two thirds of our planet’s land mass is affected.

This is a preposterous story so don’t take it from me. Check out this TED talk:

OK, did you see it? Well, if not, I’ll cut to the chase. Allan Savory, a controversial (that word again) Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer, claims that, by mimicking paleograzing patterns, we can reverse desertification and rapidly restore grasslands. Basically this involves bunching livestock into large herds and moving them briskly across a landscape, cropping vegetation, dropping fertilizer, and then leaving land to recover. Backing up his assertions with convincing PowerPoint images, Savory says “only livestock can reverse desertification.”

Am I convinced that Savory is right? No, I don’t have enough evidence. But if he is, and if we were to start using the techniques he describes on a large scale to treat land that is already degraded, we could start locking up vast amounts of atmospheric carbon, change climate patterns for the better, produce food and buy time to build a sustainable energy economy. Compared to, say, colonizing Mars, this project would be inexpensive.

One thing I do believe is that Thinking Different is the only way that we will survive as a civilization and perhaps as a species. We need to study our environment, understand how human activity has disrupted the ecosphere, test ways to restore damaged ecosystems, and scale up solutions. Call it science or call it common sense. We need to do it.

Which leads us directly to our local conversation about fire, smoke and forestry. Most of us agree that our forests are damaged, drought-stricken and fire prone. In the short term, we need to address fire seasons that threaten our health and our economy. In the long term, we must find ways to restore or allow the recovery of forest ecosystems that sequester carbon and unlock oxygen. Without fresh air, nothing else matters.

Forests are a big challenge. Grass grows in seasons; trees need decades or centuries. But information is moving faster than ever and awareness of our situation is expanding rapidly. If we Think Different, we have a shot.