Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Countries Living within Earth's Limits

By studying the wealthiest and healthiest nations that currently live within the carrying capacity of the Earth, we might learn something about how many of us might be living by the middle of this century.

Based on the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, the world is about 20 percent over its carrying capacity, which means that the countries we are looking for currently are using no more than 80 percent of the world average ecological footprint per capita (“footprint”). By multiplying average life expectancy (as a fraction of the world average) by average Gross National Product (GNP) per capita (also as a fraction of the world average), we can get a crude measure of the health and wealth (“wellbeing”) of a country.

Of the 79 countries that are known to have the required footprint, the seven with the highest wellbeing (within one standard deviation of the highest value) are, in order of decreasing wellbeing: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Gabon, Tunisia, Thailand, El Salvador, and Peru. Of these, all but Gabon is above the world average life expectancy, with Cuba being the highest at 14 percent above the world average. Cuba is tied with the Dominican Republic for GNP per capita, which is about 44 percent of the world average. For comparison, the United States has a life expectancy 15 percent above the world average, a GNP per capita that is 673 percent of the world average, and a footprint that is over five times the carrying capacity.

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