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Taking Global Warming Personally (and Shedding Some Holiday Weight at the Same Time)

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After the tradition of Thanksgiving overindulgence, wouldn't it be nice if we had a good reason other than vanity to start eating healthfully, some other incentive to help us get on a better track in the wellness arena? Luckily, the United Nations just gave us one.

The U.N.'s latest report on global warming has bad news and good news. On the downside, a lot of scary stuff is heading for us at breakneck speed. On the upside, we still have time to do something about it -- and one thing we can all do is actually fun and delicious.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a panel of thousands of the world's top climate scientists, has described the existence of human-caused global warming in its final assessment report as both "unequivocal," and as having "abrupt and irreversible" effects on global climate. Worse still, these effects are coming stronger and faster than expected in the panel's last report just six years ago. Alarmingly, some effects that had been predicted to arrive decades from now are already here.

The report warns that hundreds of millions of people are threatened with starvation, flooding, and weather disasters. Rain-fed crop production will fall by half, a quarter of the world's species will go extinct, and arctic ice will completely disappear during the summer. We will see more deadly heat waves, stronger hurricanes, and island nations completely obliterated from the map by rising sea levels.

And the good news is...?

Fortunately, there's still time to save ourselves -- but not very much time. The U.N. says point blank: "immediate action is vital." According to the report, we have just a few more years left to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

A problem of such scale will require governments, industries, and private citizens to work together to address what many believe to be the greatest challenge of our time. As with most solutions, the approach must be varied and come from all angles to really make the kind of quantum difference that is necessary. Here's but one -- albeit one of the most powerful -- way to add to the momentum of a turnaround: eat a plant based diet. Give up eating animals and go vegetarian. Seriously.

A U.N. report from just this past November found that a full 18% of global warming emissions come from raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, and other animals for food. That's about 40% more than all the cars, trucks, airplanes, and all other forms of transport combined (13%). It's also more than all the homes and offices in the world put together (8%).

So, one of the simplest and most elemental (and most delicious) things you can do to decrease your carbon footprint is to choose a veggie burger over a hamburger, "un-chicken" patties (try Garden Protein, the new and much talked about faux chicken/turkey) over actual chicken, or some grilled Portobello mushrooms with marinated tofu (I swear it's really good!). Order the vegetarian option whenever you go out to a restaurant -- and ask everywhere you go that they expand the vegetarian section on their menu, since it's good for owners of restaurants, hotels, airlines, etc. to know that there is consumer interest for tasty plant-based entrees.

I'm all for participating in the myriad things we can do to assist turning back the tide on human-made global warming: writing to a corporation about being environmentally responsible, turning off unnecessary lights and keeping the heat or a.c. on "low", voting for the politicians who will lead us into cleaner living, and driving a smaller more fuel efficient car. But on an ongoing more fundamental level, we can make a huge shift by simply eating differently. Being vegetarian is being green.

Eating a plant-based diet isn't just kind to animals and good for your health (and waistline!), it is also the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

We can each think creatively about how to use our roles in our families, jobs, and social circles, and join as part of the solution to this serious global threat.

With so much at stake, it's the least we can do. After all, the U.N. says there's still time if we act now. Surely that's something to be thankful for.

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