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It’s time to give lentils, beans, and nuts a chance!

Plant protein foods – like lentils, beans, and nuts – can provide vital nutrients using a small fraction of the land required to produce meat and dairy. By shifting to these foods, much of the remaining land could support ecosystems that absorb CO2, according to a new study appearing in the journal Nature Sustainability.

In their study, the researchers analyzed and mapped areas where extensive production of animal-sourced food, which requires 83 percent of Earth’s agricultural land, suppresses native vegetation, including forests.

The study highlights places where changing what people grow and eat could free up space for ecosystems to regrow, offsetting our CO2 emissions in the process.

According to the authors’ findings, vegetation regrowth could remove as much as nine to 16 years of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions, if demand for meat were to drastically plummet in the coming decades along with its massive land requirements. That much CO2 removal would effectively double Earth’s rapidly shrinking carbon budget.

“Reduced meat production would also be beneficial for water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity,” notes William Ripple, a co-author on the study and a professor of ecology at Oregon State University.

Source: Science Daily