NEW YORK (Dispatches) -- Eating less meat and dairy products in favor of plant-based proteins like those found in grains, legumes and nuts could make a huge difference in how much carbon dioxide reaches the atmosphere, research by Oregon State University shows.
The findings by OSU’s William Ripple and collaborators at New York University, Colorado State University and Harvard University detail how agricultural land devoted to producing animal-sourced food puts the squeeze on forests and other native vegetation well suited to absorbing CO2.
"Plant protein foods provide important nutrients while requiring a small percentage of the farm and ranch land needed to generate animal products like beef, pork and milk,” said Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology in the Oregon State College of Forestry.
The land required to meet current global demand for meat and dairy-based products constitutes more than 80% of the Earth’s agricultural acreage, according to the research collaboration led by Matthew Hayek of New York University.
If production is shifted to more land-friendly foods, the door opens to the regrowth of native vegetation capable of scrubbing away years of climate-changing fossil fuel emissions.