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Raise your hands if you love trees. Anybody? Chances are, you love ‘em – for their shade, their beauty, and perhaps because of the fact that they’re essential to the survival of our planet. That last one probably ranks pretty high on your list.

If you love trees, then you’d do anything to protect them, right? Well, according to a new study published in Nature Communications and conducted by researchers from the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna, we could stave off deforestation related to food production as soon as 2050 if we keep meat and dairy off our plates.

Why? Well, the reality is, animal agriculture is the leading driver of deforestation and habitat loss. Currently, over 50 percent of the world’s arable land is dedicated to livestock grazing or growing feed and as the world’s population grows, the amount of land needed to Support this system will only grow with it. Since the planet isn’t exactly growing more land, the only way to make this happen is by chopping down trees to make way.

In the Brazilian region of the Amazon, around 80 percent of deforestation is caused by cattle ranching and this rate increased by 29 percent in the past year alone. Worldwide, the amount of land devoted to growing soybeans is the same size as the combined as the area of Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Considering three-fourths of the world’s soybeans are fed to livestock, the true impact of eating a burger starts to become clear.

At current rates, deforestation caused by the meat and dairy industries is responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the past 40 years alone, the world has lost around 52 percent of its wildlife population, and it’s estimated that one-third of the Amazon could lose 44 percent of its species in the next 15 years due to agricultural expansion.

With a population steadily on the rise, estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, it’s pretty urgent that we find a way to reach the demands of a global appetite without completely decimating our forests. The solution to that problem might be as easy as switching to a plant-based diet. The study confirms that “it is possible to produce sufficient food for the world in 2050 and at the same time maintain the current forests of the world.”

While conducting the study, researchers measured multiple food production scenarios under different conditions, particularly plant-based versus meat-based diets. The result? The higher the  meat consumption, the higher the deforestation rates. In other words, it becomes increasingly difficult to preserve our forests with an increasing demand for meat and dairy.

“The preservation of the world’s remaining forest areas represents a central goal of climate and biodiversity protection,” explains Karlheinz Erb of the Institute of Social Ecology, one of the study’s authors, “but deforestation is frequently justified by the need for more agricultural land.”

But by eating more plant-based foods, we no longer need any justifications. And it’s time we act now: Researchers at the Wageningen University Reacher Centre report that “Agriculture is estimated to be the direct driver for around 80 percent of deforestation worldwide.” And according to National Geographic,  if we continue at our current rate of deforestation, the world’s rainforests could virtually vanish within the next 100 years. This not only causes loss of habitat for millions of species but a steep negative impact on Climate change as well.

Perhaps the most impactful statement of them all comes from Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations (FAO), which states that livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including Global warming, land degradation, air and water Pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Our appetite for meat is causing the demise of the environment, animals, and ourselves. The time to act is now.

So what are you waiting for? Fight with your fork!

One Green Planet believes that our global food system dominated by industrial animal agriculture is at the heart of our environmental crisis.

This destructive industry currently occupies over half of the world’s arable land resources, uses the majority of our freshwater stores, and drives greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, this system causes rampant air and water Pollution, land degradation, deforestation and is pushing countless species to the brink of extinction. And yet, one in eight people still suffer from food scarcity.

“The real war against Climate change is being fought on our plates, multiple times a day with every food choice we make,” said Nil Zacharias, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet, ”one of the biggest challenges facing our planet, and our species is that we are knowingly eating ourselves into extinction, and doing very little about it.”

As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, it is One Green Planet’s view that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system, give species a fighting chance for survival, and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.

By choosing to eat more plant-based foods, you can drastically cut your carbon footprint, save precious water supplies and help ensure that vital crop resources are fed to people, rather than livestock. With the wealth of available plant-based options available, it has never been easier to eat with the planet in mind.

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Image Source:  Wikimedia Commons