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Rainforest Destruction: What's Meat Got To Do With It? by Dr. Steven Best

"I have no doubt that it is part of the gradual destiny of the human race in its gradual development to leave off the eating of animals." - Henry David Thoreau

Everyone knows that the rainforests are disappearing, but few realize how rapidly and how their food choices play a key role. Since 1945, half of the world's rainforests have been burned, bulldozed, and mined into oblivion. Each day, 140,000 acres of tropical forest are demolished, 8 acres every few seconds, and 50 to 150 different species become extinct. In fifty years, mining, logging, oil, cattle, and banking interests have destroyed what has taken nature hundreds of millions of years to create. At the current rate of devastation, the rainforests of the world will be completely leveled in another fifty years.

A world without rainforests is unsustainable for complex life forms. The rainforests deliver oxygen to the air, stabilize climates, and they regulate humidity, wind, and convection patterns. Although only 7% of the earth's total area, the rainforests provide a lush habitat for 50% of all animal and plant species, and a home for many indigenous peoples. They yield a rich bounty of fruit, nuts, spices, gums, and medicinal compounds; while rainforest plants have already provided cures for many diseases, only 1% of them have been studied. The rainforests are the oldest and the most diverse ecosystems on this planet.

Left standing, trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Burned or chopped down, they release concentrated amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, undermining the ozone layer. There is a growing consensus among the world's scientists that we are indeed in a new epoch of earth history: the Age of Global Warming. The evidence of global warming is visible everywhere: unprecedented heat waves and drought, super-ferocious storms, a dramatic rise in skin cancer rates, the breaking up of the Antarctic Ice Shelf, and increased pests and diseases.

While corporations like Mitsubishi, Arco, Texaco, and Honshu Paper are the main culprits in deforestation, every person who consumes meat also plays a role. One of the principle reasons for deforestation is to provide grazing ground for cattle. In terms of global warming, this means that enormous amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. The grazing of cows and other ruminant animals also causes the emission of two other major ozone destroying gases: nitrous oxide (in fertilizer) and over a hundred million tons of methane gas a year -- which some scientists see as becoming the primary global warming gas in the next 50 years.

Americans eat more beef than any other country in the world, consuming 32% of the total production. Meat-eaters are not only destroying their own health by consuming these toxic products, they are contributing to numerous other problems such as world hunger (the land needed to feed cattle is 20 times the amount needed to feed people), the expropriation of people from their lands (used to graze cattle), the destruction of human and animal habitat, and the aggravation of global warming. Experts estimate that every person who switches to a pure vegetarian (vegan) diet saves an acre of trees every year.

Before biting into the next hamburger, one might consider the real cost -- 55 square feet of rainforest, 12 pounds of grain, and 2500 gallons of water. I for one believe that the earth and its teeming life forms are worth much more than fast food chains and Big Macs. The best way to care for the environment is to become a vegetarian; to be consistent in one's beliefs, an environmentalist must also be a vegetarian.

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