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How the U.S. Stacks Up In Terms of Ecological Footprint and Resource Availability

GinaMarie headshotWords by Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Energy & Environment
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Have you ever wondered how the U.S. and its states are doing in terms of resource availability and ecological footprints? You don’t have to wonder any longer. A report by Global Footprint Network and Earth Economics, titled State of the States: A New Perspective on the Wealth of Our Nation, details the ecological footprint and resource availability of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. What the report finds is that resource consumption and availability are dramatically different from state to state.

When it comes to the U.S. in general, what the report finds is not pretty. The U.S. population is using twice the renewable natural resources and services that can be regenerated within the country. The third-richest country in the world in terms of biocapacity, with Brazil and China in the top two spots, the U.S. has the second-largest share of the world’s overall ecological footprint, behind China, which has a population four times that of the U.S. The total footprint of the U.S. is almost twice that of India, a country with a population almost four times that of the U.S. The per-person ecological footprint in the U.S is more than twice China’s and more than seven times India’s. Only 16 states in the country are living within the means of their natural resources.

What about the findings regarding specific states? Here are some highlights:


  • States with the largest per-person ecological footprints are Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

  • States with the smallest per-person ecological footprints are New York, Idaho and Arkansas.

  • The most resource-abundant states based on biocapacity are Alaska, Texas and Michigan.

  • The states with the least biocapacity are Rhode Island, Delaware and Arizona.

  • California, Texas and Florida have the highest ecological deficits.

  • Alaska, South Dakota and Montana have the greatest ecological reserves.

Renewable energy use will play a larger role in the future


Renewable energy use is a major way that states and the nation can lower their ecological footprints. California became the first state to generate over 5 percent of its electricity from utility-scale renewables earlier this year, but six states are farther ahead than the Golden State in overall renewable energy dependence. The majority of the renewable energy in those six states comes from hydropower, which the report points out is “well-exploited and very geographically specific.”

However, the report finds that the U.S. is “clearly preparing for a future in which sustainable energy plays a much larger role, and most states still have substantial opportunity to tap into solar and wind energy to reduce the carbon intensity of their economies.” Now, that is good news for the U.S. and its citizens.

California: A state with the biggest ecological footprint but some of the highest environmental standards


California is the seventh-largest economy in the world. It has the largest population in the U.S. and a huge ecological footprint to match. It would take eight Californias to support Californians’ ecological footprint as they are using more than eight times the state’s available biocapacity. The four-year historic drought threatens to further decrease California’s biocapacity.

California’s carbon footprint is the largest percent of its ecological footprint, but the average Californian’s carbon footprint is lower than that of the average American. The report attributes it in part to a mild climate that needs less heating and cooling, but also to energy efficiency measures, hydropower use and less coal use than other states. California also has its own gasoline standards, a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and a renewable energy standard of obtaining 33 percent of electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Image credit: Global Footprint Network

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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