For years we've pointed to manufacturing, car emissions, and extreme deforestation as the culprits behind climate change. However, we should be pointing the finger at ourselves because what humans are choosing to eat is drastically shortening the lifespan of our planet.
Researchers across four American universities released a 10-page paper on May 12 that reveals the solution to global warming is much simpler and closer to home than commonly believed. In fact, it's at the dinner table.
According to the paper, by substituting beans for beef, Americans could immediately reach 50 to 75 percent of the United States' greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals in the year 2020. Cows produce more GHG than any other food source and are a huge contributor to global warming. In stark contrast, nutrient-rich legumes produce one-fortieth of the amount of GHG.
"The nation could achieve more than half of its GHG reduction goals without imposing any new standards on automobiles or manufacturing,” said Joan Sabate, one of the researchers and the executive director of the Center for Nutrition, Healthy Lifestyle and Disease Prevention at Loma Linda University (LLU) School of Public Health.
"Given the scale of greenhouse gas reductions needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, are we prepared to eat beef analogs that look and taste like beef, but have a much lower climate impact?" asked Helen Harwatt, a researcher at LLU and the head of the team responsible for the study. "It looks like we'll need to do this. The scale of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed doesn't allow us the luxury of 'business as usual' eating patterns."
The research also shed light on the amount of good land that is wasted by the livestock industry. If Americans switched from beef to beans, we would open up 42 percent of our country's agricultural land for more efficient use. That equates to a massive area 1.6 times larger than the state of California that could be used to feed millions more people than it currently does.
Meat consumption has gone down exponentially over the past five years, and veganism and vegetarianism are on the rise globally. More and more people are realizing that what they eat has an impact on the world around them.
When an individual's demand for beef is contributing to the destruction of a planet that is home to billions, that craving becomes a problem that has far-reaching consequences.
Nevertheless, the LLU research findings should be motivational, and the fact that we each play such a huge role in climate change should be seen as an ultimately positive thing. It means we have control over the solution because, quite simply, we are the solution.