Global Footprint Stress Index: Extreme (purple, >10), High (orange 3-10), Moderate (yellow 1-3), Low (white <1)

Last month I wrote an article suggesting that a propensity for war-mongering and civil violence, i.e. the tendency to take hasty and extreme action rather than a reasoned and responsible response to a crisis, might be attributable to what Edward Hall describes as population stress, the adrenaline-driven aggressive/panic stress response that all creatures exhibit when their population greatly exceeds sustainable carrying capacity. Hall explains that this is nature’s ‘last resort’ method of bringing the population of the species quickly back into balance with the rest of the ecosystem, when the species fails to manage its own numbers and when opportunistic diseases don’t do the trick. Earlier I had calculated  a simple Population Stress Index (PSI), which was computed by multiplying density per arable square mile by population growth rate, and I compared it to an astonishingly similar map by another blogger, Matthew White, showing violent death rate by country.

As I explained in last month’s post, the PSI is an imperfect stress index. It does not show the very different levels of consumption and demand on local resources of people in different countries (which has as much to do with sustainability as population). So I have now computed a Footprint Stress Index (FSI), plotted on the map above, which is computed as follows:

  1. First, I calculated the Resource Use Index by taking the aggregate Ecological Footprint (EF) of each country in hectares (the per capita footprint from sources such as the Living Planet Report, times the country’s population), and dividing it by the number of habitable hectares of land in the country (I used as a proxy for this the lesser of 80% of total land area and 200% of Oxford’s ‘arable land area’ data). This very useful number indicates the number of times over each country’s citizens are using the renewable and sustainable resources available to them. A Resource Use index of 1.0 is sustainable. An index of, say, 5, indicates that to restore the country to sustainability, it needs to do some combination of reducing population and reducing per-capita resource consumption, by a combined 80%. The table below shows some sample Resource Use indices I computed.
  2. Then I multiplied this Resource Use Index by the estimated annual growth rate of the country’s aggregate Ecological Footprint. For this, I started with the annual population growth rate as a proxy (the EF studies suggest aggregate footprint and population are growing at roughly the same rate), and then substituted more precise EF growth rate numbers when I could find them online (China’s EF is growing much faster than its population, for example).
Resource Use Index: Sample Countries
80   Japan
60   S.Korea
40   Israel, Palestine
35   Switzerland
25   Netherlands, Belgium, UK
16   Germany
13   Ireland, France, Italy, Venezuela
11   US, Columbia, Chile, Sweden
9   China, Philippines
8   Congo
6   World Overall
6   S.Africa, New Zealand
5  Brasil, Iran, Mexico
3  Canada, India, Iraq, Russia
2  Australia, Argentina
1  A few equatorial African nations

Footprint Stress Index: Sample Countries
40+   Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait
30   China
18   Congo
12   Venezuela, Columbia
10   US
  8   Chile
  6   India, Netherlands, Belgium, Iraq
4.5  World Overall
4.0   Mexico, Iran, UK
3.0   New Zealand, Sweden
2.0   Brasil, Argentina, Japan, France
1.5  Canada, Australia
1.0   S.Korea, Switzerland
0.5  Germany, Italy
0.0  S.Africa, Russia

The US, China, Congo, Colombia, Venezuela, and several Mid-Eastern nations all have FSIs in excess of 10. These are all countries embroiled in war, imperialistic or regional or civil, except for China where dissent is ruthlessly suppressed. These are the countries that are suffering enormous anxiety because not only are they consuming vastly more resources than what they have available domestically, their populations or industrial capacities are also growing rapidly, meaning they will need to find ever more resources outside the country to feed the soaring need.

Japan, South Korea and most European nations have very high Resource Use Indices, but because their populations are growing slowly and because they are mostly very aware of conservation, their EFs are not increasing. As a result, their FSIs are more moderate. Because they all depend so heavily (90% or more) on imports of other countries’ natural resources, however, as these resources get depleted and as exporting countries realize how cheaply they are giving them away, these nations’ unsustainable resource demands will not be able to be met, and that will drive their Footprint Stress Indices way up. Once these scarcities become endemic, there will no longer be any option to increase resource use, and at that point the Resource Use Index itself will become the Footprint Stress Index.

What will the world be like when dozens of nations, whose economies are using resources at more than ten times the rate they can sustain them from domestic supplies, suddenly find the price of these supplies quadrupling, or that these supplies are not available at any price? Colour all the countries on the left side of the Resource Use Index table above purple on the map at the top of this article and you’ll get the idea. We’re talking about a world war for increasingly scarce resources. And all of the countries on the right side of that table then become invasion targets.

We all know what we have to do. Immediate massive taxes on resources to finance the development of technologies that conserve or don’t require natural resources. Shut-down of corporations that waste resources, that pollute, and that produce non-essential products. An end to subsidies, so that we can begin to realize the true cost of our profligate deficit spending. The pay-down of government debts to reduce the risk of economic collapse when interest and inflation rates spike. Incentives for having no children, or maybe one.

Of course, we have no appetite for these draconian solutions. The corporatist Frankenstein monster is perpetuating the waste and madness that is producing this crisis, and they accept no responsibility for the ultimate Tragedy of the Commons that will hit us with colossal force once we simply run out of resources to consume to keep civilization’s engine running. The hydrogen economy simply won’t occur fast enough to stave off disaster.

Our best hope is, ironically, that some crisis will shock us into collective action before the real crunch hits. We learned nothing from the oil line-ups a generation ago, but perhaps it is not too late. If the first crisis to hit is manageable, we may be motivated to combine three massive human efforts: Voluntary negative population growth, global large-scale conservation, and an unprecedented investment in innovation and new low-footprint technologies, that could prevent a social, economic and ecological collapse. We survived a Great Depression three quarters of a century ago by exactly this type of huge, collective intervention. That’s what we need now. The ‘market’ isn’t going to fix this mess.

This entry was posted in Preparing for Civilization's End. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Raging Bee says:

    So…according to this map, the US, which actually has an environmental-protection policy to argue about, is putting more stress on the land than the Africans (who are busily expanding the Sahara desert in their desperate need for firewood), and the South Americans (who are just as desperately destroying their rainforests rather than divvy up good farmland curently owned by powerful landowners)?That’s just ridiculous.

  2. Raging Bee says:

    And what’s this about Russia and South Africa having a “footprint stress index” of ZERO? Last I checked, the Russian gangsters were raping the land as fast as they could in the relative chaos of life after Communism, to make as much money as they could before the laws changed or the people got wise and cracked down on them. Also, life expectancy for Russians is going down all around due to poverty, economic chaos, overall mismanagement, and the long-term effects of Stalinist and post-Stalinist disregard for the environment.Your math may be correct, but the resulting numbers don’t look all that meaningful.

Comments are closed.