Compare the countries from Table 1 and the associated footprints. What major factor contributes to the differences in the size of the footprints between these countries? Thanks for your help!...

Compare the countries from Table 1 and the associated footprints. What major factor contributes to the differences in the size of the footprints between these countries? Thanks for your help!

Table 1: Global Ecological Footprints, 2010


Ecological Footprint
(hectares per person)

United Arab Emirates


United States of America










United Kingdom



















Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many factors that go into calculations of each country's "ecological footprint," including per capita ratios of automobile usage versus other forms of transportation, like natural gas-powered buses and advanced-technology trains and subways, amount of wood burned for fuel and for export (e.g., less-developed countries that engage in deforestation because their natural resources are coveted by furniture manufacturers and home-builders, in contrast to deforestation in countries like Brazil where subsistence "slash-and-burn" farming devastates jungles and forests), and other activities that stress the world's ability to support humanity's claims on it. The United States is unsurprisingly near the top of the list of global ecological footprints precisely because of its population's history of mass usage of environmentally corrosive technologies and practices, such as the American penchant for the automobile and the freedom car ownership represents. In addition, exploitation of natural resources by the United States has long been a factor in this nation's ability to develop economically and to sustain its relatively large population's standard of living. What is surprising to many people, therefore, is that the United States is second on the list with the United Arab Emirates placing first among all nations.

The reason that a tiny country with a population of less than 10 million people ranks above an economic colossus with a population of over 300 million is that the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are extremely resource intensive relative to their size. The country's oil wealth and Dubai's success in emerging as a major regional center of financial and shipping activity have resulted in an extremely affluent native population ("native" as opposed to the large number of extremely poor immigrant laborers the UAE imports to perform work its own population won't perform) that consumes energy at a disproportionate rate. Dubai's burgeoning economic development consumes enormous amounts of energy, and the region's wealthy individually and collectively consume energy out of proportion to the UAE's dimunitive size.

Ecological footprints, as noted, are calculations of how many resources each country consumes, and the top of the list of worst offenders is heavily represented by developed countries with high standards of living. On the low end -- in effect, the least offensive countries -- are those with the lowest levels of industrialization; they also lack natural resources highly coveted by other countries, like oil and minerals, and aren't engaged in deforestation. Because the student's list of nations includes numerical rankings or scores that do not correlate to any data reviewed by this educator, it is difficult to respond fully to the question. Brazil, an economic powerhouse in South America, is a serious offender on the basis of the alarming rate at which its government has countenanced or failed to prevent deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, one of the planet's most important producers of oxygen. The same pattern follows for Vietnam, Nigeria and other countries. Nigeria, which has a large population and is a major exporter of oil, is an enormously inefficient society. Vietnam is emerging as one of the so-called Asian Tigers, as its rate of economic growth remains impressive. It also, however, has a large ecological footprint. That nation's economic prosperity continues to come at the expense of its destruction of the region's resources. 

Basically, what most of these countries have in common is that they use resources well in excess of the planet's ability to replenish itself, meaning that each of these offenders exploits natural resources very much out of proportion to their population's relative size. Japan is considered a very efficient country, but its exhaustion of natural resources, and its disproportionate level of impact on the world's resources, results in it being categorized as having a large footprint. Again, economic development has tended to translate to environmental degradation, but the poorer, more economically destitute nations have similarly high ecological footprints because of their inefficient agricultural and industrial practices. Ethiopia has a high footprint for precisely this reason. Overgrazing of farmland, deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification all contribute to Ethiopia's high ecological footprint despite its low ranking. [See:] Australia is perhaps one of the planet's worst offenders, as its relatively small population of 23 million belies its 6.84 footprint on the U.N.'s chart. Similarly, the Netherlands has a population of only 16.8 million, yet has a very high rating of 6.2 on the basis of this tiny nation's disproportionate consumption of natural resources as well as its population's meat and dairy-heavy diet, which consumes large amounts of land and other resources needed to support its dietary practices. [See:]

In conclusion, the correlation between level of economic development and ecological footprint is unmistakable. Just as unmistakable, however, is the correlation between poverty and inefficiency, as primitive and environmentally destructive agricultural practices in places like Brazil and Ethiopia indicate. Interestingly, however, China receives a very impressive footprint rating of 2.21 by the United Nations despite its enormous rate of environmental destruction, including the construction of the Three Gorges Dam and that country's recent history of constructing coal-burning power plants [See: "China's Growing Coal Use is World's Growing Problem,"]. To its credit, however, the Chinese government is acknowledging not only the ramifications to the world of its heretofore relentless practice of building coal-fired plants but the ramifications for its own image of such environmentally destructive practices [See: "Beijing to Shut All Major Coal Power Plants to Cut Pollution,"]. The fact that China overtook the United States for the dubious distinction of being the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases does make one question its ranking on the U.N. list.