The US Is Now Running an Ecological Deficit, According to a New Report

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Despite being one of the top resource-rich nations in the world, the U.S. uses twice the amount of renewable natural resources as can be regenerated annually within the country.

According to a new report from two environmental think tanks, the United States overshot its ecological "budget" on July 14th, and is essentially now running an ecological deficit for the rest of the year. The good news is that Mother Nature can't just ring up a collection agency and start harassing us for overspending, but the bad news is that eventually, this trend will come back to bite us, one way or another.

The Global Footprint Network and Earth Economics, two nonprofit sustainability and environmental organizations, just released their State of the States: A New Perspective on the Wealth of Our Nation report, and while it isn't exactly news that our insatiable appetites for cheap energy, food, water, and other resources is driving us into the red, the conclusions of the report should serve as (yet another) wakeup call that our lifestyle is unsustainable.

"In 2015, Ecological Deficit Day landed on July 14. U.S. Ecological Deficit Day marks the date when the United States has exceeded nature’s budget for the year. The nation’s annual demand for the goods and services that our land and seas can provide — fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, wood, cotton for clothing, and carbon dioxide absorption — now exceeds what our nation’s ecosystems can renew this year. Similar to how a person can go into debt with a credit card, our nation is running an ecological deficit." - State of the States

One of the key findings of the report is that although the ecological deficit figures vary state by state, U.S. residents as a whole use "twice the renewable natural resources and services that can be regenerated within its borders," and the global population consumes way more resources than is sustainable, using "the equivalent renewable resources of 1.5 Earths."

The report examined both the ecological footprint, which includes the area of all land necessary to produce food, fiber, and timber, and that used for housing and roads, as well as the "absorption of carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels," and compared it to biocapacity, which is a measure of how much productive area is available to provide these needs.

Only 16 states, led by Alaska, South Dakota, and Montana, were found to be living within their ecological means, while the highest ecological deficits were found in California, Texas, and Florida. Ironically, Texas was also listed as being one of the top three resource-abundant states (based on the biocapacity measure), even as it runs a high ecological deficit, and Michigan, which was also listed along with Texas as a high-biocapacity state, ranked well in the red, ecologically-speaking. According to the report, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware had the highest per-person ecological footprints, while the lowest per-person footprints were found in New York, Idaho, and Arkansas.

Even knowing the huge divide in environmental perspectives in America, which seem to be squarely split along party lines, it seems to me that this type of 'natural capital' analysis really ought to get more exposure than it probably will, considering how much of our economy depends on our natural resources. As David Batker, executive director of Earth Economics, puts it, "People need nature. Economies need nature. Securing prosperity in the 21st century requires using informed measures, like the Ecological Footprint, to improve policy, shift investment and fix our ecological budget."

The full report, as well as the technical methodologies, are available for download (PDFs) at the Global Footprint Network, and if you're interested in understanding what your personal ecological footprint is, this calculator can help you figure that out as well.