March 30, 2004 (ENS): Excessive consumption
by the world’s richest nations is making life
even more difficult for the world’s least fortunate,
according to a new report by Redefining Progress. The
U.S. based research group says the wealthiest nations
are depleting global resources at an unprecedented rate
– with the United States leading the way –
and are mortgaging the future at the expense of today’s
children, the poor and the long term health of the planet.
The 2004 Footprint of Nations analyzes the ecological
impact of more than 130 countries, demonstrating to what
extent a nation can support its resource consumption with
its available ecological capacity.
playing fair: The U.S. accused of taking
more than it's share of the World's resources
Redefining Progress's prior reports have focused on
the dangers of overusing our natural resources and the
effect on future generations. For the first time, this
year's report documents the current impact of overconsumption
on the world's most vulnerable populations.
"This measure speaks for those with the least
power in today's world: children, the poor, the environment,
and future generations," said Michel Gelobter,
executive director of Redefining Progress. "These
are groups with little or no voice in the political
system or the economy, but whose resources are being
compromised. When we ignore their plight, we undermine
our collective future."
The report uses ecological footprint accounts to provide
a measurable estimate of humanity’s pressure on
global ecosystems – to determine an ecological
footprint, the organization measures the biologically
productive area required to produce the food and wood
people consume, to supply space for infrastructure,
and to absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide emitted
from burning fossil fuels.
The accounts are composed of six factors: energy use,
grazing land, pastureland, fisheries, built land and
Redefining Progress expresses ecological footprint
in terms of global acres, with each global acre corresponding
to one acre of biologically productive space with world
Previous reports found that consumption exceeds the
Earth’s biological capacity by some 15 to 20 percent
– the 2004 update “indicates that the situation
has remained fundamentally unchanged except for one
notable exception in the case of the United States.”
“In 2000, the United States became the country
with the largest per capita ecological footprint on
the planet,” according to the report.
The U.S. footprint is 23.7 acres per capita –
a sustainable footprint would be 4.6 acres.
The organization measures the global ecological footprint
at 5.6 global acres per capita.
The United Arab Emirates ranks second with 22.2 acres
per capita and Canada third with 21.1 acres.
Developing countries such as Bangladesh and Mozambique
represent the other end of the scale – these nations
have footprints of 1.3 acres per capita.
On a per capita basis the average footprint has declined
by 1.2 acres over the past 20 years – largely
because many areas of production have become more efficient
- but this decrease is offset by population growth.
Even a developing nation with a small per capita footprint
can have a very large overall footprint when its population
These problems are compounded as wealthy nations continue
to grow their economies by exploiting the resources
and economic potential of their impoverished neighbors,
the report finds.
Unsustainable consumption and population play a big
part in the size of a nation's footprint - much of an
industrialized nation's ecological impact is due to
the use of fossil fuels. The report details that shifting
to renewable energy can dramatically lessen a country's
Sustainable modes of production and consumption and
attention to social equity can help decrease national
footprints and improve quality of life around the world,
according to the public policy organization.
Redefining Progress has calculated ecological footprints
for more than 130 countries and numerous regions as
well as an increasing number of municipalities and businesses.
Individuals can calculate their own footprint in seven
languages at: http://www.myfootprint.org.