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The Ecological Footprint concept, first introduced 15 years ago, provides an interesting way of looking at consumption. Consumption of the full range of bioresources1 - from grain, beef cattle, and fish, to peat and timber - is converted to a measure of the land and water surface area required to support that consumption, as well as disposal of wastes. 

Not surprisingly, the Ecological Footprint of the United States, the highest consuming nation in the world, is larger than for any other nation. What is surprising is that the U.S. footprint is double that of the E.U. and far higher than a number of nations that consistently rank higher or comparable to the U.S. in quality of life indices.

Examination of biocapacity on a national basis shows that many of the most affluent countries, such as the United States, are consuming bioresources at levels beyond long-term replenishment capacity, and impacting far greater geographic areas than defined by national borders and coastal seas. Largely as a result of the practices of these relatively few countries, the global Ecological Footprint is estimated to now exceed the long-term carrying capacity of the earth.

Such estimates raise a question as to what responsibility high-consuming nations have to reduce the impacts of their consumption. Critical thinking about this issue inevitably leads to consideration of not only bioresource consumption, but consumption of non-renewable resources as well, and paints a sobering picture of our national profile.

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