It’s become almost impossible to deny that global warming is a real problem.  Even the polar bears have started to sweat. But all too often we think of climate change as something that will happen in 100 years, in the far off arctic tundra. This is not the case. The most recent issue of PLOS Biology released a study that shows climate change is already starting to affect the earth’s ecosystem in a very serious way.

Scientists looked at 976 animal species from around the world, ranging from terrestrial to freshwater and marine, and found that local species extinctions had occurred in 47 percent of their natural ranges. This does not mean that these plants and animals have been wiped from the face of the earth, it means that were pushed out of the habitats they traditionally inhabited. John Weins, an ecologist at the University of Arizona calls these little incursions “the warm edge” – the threshold at which flora and fauna start to migrate due to increasing temperatures. However, these localized extinctions provide us with far too many grim portents of what is to come if we do not act quickly.

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Climate change is not the only factor that threatens biodiversity on the planet – plastic pollution, deforestation, overfishing, and the illegal wildlife trade are all pulling us, inexorably, towards a sixth mass extinction. But climate changes happens on a larger scale than the rest. The earth’s ecosystems are the product of billions of years of evolution and because of this, slight temperature changes over short periods of time can have catastrophic consequences for plants and animals. As rapid changes in local climate edge these living beings out of their natural habitats, so do humans. Around 4.5 million kilometers of land – that’s roughly two-thirds of Australia – has been appropriated for human use over the past decade. All of these factors mean one thing – the world’s ecosystems are on the brink of collapse, and humans are largely to blame.

We have lost 42 percent of the wildlife on the planet over the past 40 years and while this problem is incredibly complex, there is one simple solution – we need to change our diets. 45 percent of the global land is allocated to animal agriculture. The same industry is responsible for at least 14.5 percent of the world’s carbon emissions – many organizations estimate this number is significantly higher. By eliminating meat for our diets we can cut our carbon footprint in half and free up untold amounts of space that could be used to reestablish the various habitats that have been destroyed by our unhealthy appetite for meat. To find out more about how you can fight for biodiversity with your fork, join One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet movement. We can save the world one bite at a time.

Image source: Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock