Global climate change has been a recurring term among news stories and magazine articles in the past few years. Unless someone lives under a rock, they’re almost guaranteed to have heard about the phenomenon by now—although a rock-dwelling person would have already experienced the detrimental effects of climate change first hand.

Who or what is causing climate change? Giant money-hungry corporations like coal, oil, and lumber companies pollute the environment and destroy forests, contributing to our planet’s dangerously increasing temperature. The livestock industry isn’t much better—the feces of ruminants (a classification of mammals including cows, goats, and sheep) emits methane gas, which obliterates the ozone layer and makes abundant contributions to the greenhouse effect. Just one cow emits between 350 and 600kg of methane into the atmosphere before it’s sent off to the slaughterhouse—39 million cows are killed for meat every year in the United States.

Why should anyone care? The effects of climate change will be irreversible by the year 2030, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This means that the world will experience extreme drought, wildfires, food shortages, and colossal storms resulting in devastating floods. No one will be unaffected, and there’s nothing anyone in this lifetime can do to stop it once the Earth’s temperature has reached its threshold. If we want to live happy, healthy lives without having to worry about the constant threat of severe weather and starvation, we need to take on the responsibility to make a change to our lifestyles before it’s too late.

What can the average person do to help? Reducing one’s consumption of animal products is, by far, the most effective way for individual people to help combat climate change. This doesn’t just refer to the things you put on your body, like makeup and clothing; it includes the things you put in your body, as well. Following a plant-based lifestyle and diet can cut a person’s carbon footprint in half—this means that a person who regularly consumes meat, dairy, and other animal products causes twice as much damage to the planet as a person who doesn’t.

Something else that could help us win the fight against climate change is spreading awareness to those who are able and willing to adopt a plant-based lifestyle. Not everyone is capable of this change due to their health, finances, or lack of access to nutritious, sustainable plant-based food (or just food in general), but that just gives those who are privileged enough to be capable of going plant-based more of a reason to do so. Over half of the world’s population lives in poverty, so the advantaged minority needs to step up and make a difference to help those who can’t.

Why will these things help? With fewer animals being raised for food or clothing, there will be a dramatic decrease of greenhouse gases emitted from ruminant feces and factory fumes. If everyone in the U.S. ate a plant-based diet for just one day every week, the impact on the environment would be equal to that of taking 500,000 cars off of the road. If everyone in U.S. went plant-based permanently, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced even further. Total food production would increase, solving some of the world’s widespread hunger problems, as about half of the crops grown in the U.S. are fed to livestock instead of people. Destruction of the world’s forests would be slowed significantly; according to pachamama.org, 91% of deforestation can be attributed to animal agriculture.

The world can be a cleaner, healthier, and safer place to exist, but only if we act quickly. It will undoubtedly be very difficult in the beginning, but the reward will vastly outweigh the struggles we will face on the way.

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