Most of us would probably agree that there’s nothing quite so satisfying, meat-wise, like a juicy steak or a hearty burger. Beef is king of the meat world, and while it is incredibly delicious, its constant place on our personal menus is threatening the planet. Varying up our meat consumption — eating more chicken or pork in place of beef and lamb — could literally save our world.

On Wednesday, July 17, U.S.-based research group the World Resources Institute (WRI) said that the time is nigh for a menu change. Thanks to the world’s proclivities towards meat, particularly the iconic burger (who doesn’t love a burger!), which has been adapted into many a country’s cuisine, we have said goodbye to many forests and hello to a scary increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the United Nations, farmlands and agriculture make up 11% of all global emissions that are turning up the planet’s temperature. The biggest culprit of these emissions comes from gases emitted by livestock during digestion, burping and in manure.

Emissions are also created when peatlands are drained for the expansion of agriculture land. The draining releases one of the main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, into the air.

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The WRI said that if the globe’s highest beef- and lamb-consumers make a conscious effort to cut their weekly portions down to 1.5 burgers by 2050, it could significantly decrease greenhouse gas emissions and save remaining forests which would otherwise be turned into farmlands for grazing. According to the WRI, Brazilians consume three times that amount and Europeans and Americans eat double.

“This is the most promising and most realistic solution,” said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of the WRI report and a researcher at Princeton University.

Searchinger told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that this was more feasible than trying to reduce the world’s overall meat intake.

The WRI reported that the biggest meat-eaters come from the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America and the former Soviet Union, who make up a quarter of the world’s population. Data from 2010 showed that their meat consumption was half of the world’s meat from ruminants or grazers; namely cattle, sheep and goats.

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Without having to give up meat altogether (we’re not all vegans and vegetarians), making the shift to chicken and pork is the most immediate and effective solution to the greenhouse gas emissions problem.

The WRI noted that gas emissions from producing one tonne of protein from cows, sheep and goats far outweighs that of chicken and pork production of the same amount. The grazers emit eight times more greenhouse gases than chicken and four times more than pork, not to mention that they require much more space and land for ruminating.

Interestingly, scientists have been working to identify ruminating breeds that burp less, therefore reducing gas emissions. The quality of feed for the grazers will also make a difference; higher quality of food will yield more meat and milk in each animal.

As we continue to grow in population and enjoy increases in income, the global food demand is expected to go up by more than a whopping 50% in 2050.

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If we are to meet the demand with adequate supply and continue to utilise current farming solutions, the planet’s fate will be more grim than ever — most of the world’s remaining forests would have to be decimated, and along with them, thousands more living species, upsetting nature’s balance even further.

The greenhouse gas emissions from such a supply would directly cause a rise in global temperatures, exceeding the targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement of keeping the global average temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F). Going above 2 degrees Celsius would spell catastrophe for our planet.

Knowing this, might we take a pause before ordering that steak or wolfing down that burger? Chicken is ultra-versatile and is extremely easy to prepare, and come on, who doesn’t love bacon, ham and other porky goodies?

We don’t need to say goodbye to our favourite meats, but perhaps a little menu adjustment by each of us will pave the way for bigger, life-saving results for our world. -/TISG