The Ecological Footprint of the Arab World: disastrous

By Ghassan Karam

It is so common to speak about environmental degradation but unfortunately no country or group of people seem to be willing to do anything meaningful about the single most important challenge that humanity has ever faced. The problem does not manifest itself in the area of prognosis. A large number of studies by individuals, universities, governments and the UN have concluded as a result of numerous detailed studies that the world is full and that business as usual will only lead to disastrous outcomes, possibly collapse, and total collapse of civilization. Furthermore if collapse is to be the outcome then it would not be the first time that the human inability to take decisive corrective action has resulted in ruin. Just ask the Incas , the Mayans and the inhabitants of Easter Island..

Obviously the adoption of  meaningful sustainable measures is in everyone’s interest. But yet we have failed to undertake a single measure anywhere in the world that would move us in the right direction. Why? The answer is very simple.  Capitalism cannot accept a no growth economy irrespective of the fact that all our studies tell us that the world is full and cannot accommodate any more growth. Actually we know that the present level of economic activity is beyond the carrying capacity of the globe and so sustainability demands major significant cuts in the level of economic activity if we are to have a shot at preventing a climate change of over 2 degrees Celsius.

One of the most common measures of sustainability is that of the ecological footprint. That is simply an estimate of the resources consumed by each person in order to lead the average life style in each country. Studies have shown that at the present the global resources available per person are less than 2 hectares. It follows therefore, that whenever the average footprint per capita of the citizens of a nation is above 2 hectares then that country is operating at a global deficit. This simply means that these citizens are maintaining a life style that we cannot afford, as a planet and that this state of affairs can only result in disastrous outcomes for everyone. That is the message of the Tragedy of the Commons that Hardin has popularized almost fifty years ago .

The Arab world appears to be split into groups. The oil producers in addition to Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia consume at a level that much above the global average. Ironically, the largest ecological footprint in the world belongs to the UAE with approximately about 16 hectares per person. The 3rd highest footprint belongs to Kuwait with 10.31 hectares per person then Saudi Arabia ranks 17th in the world with 6.15 hectares per capita. Lebanon ranks 52nd in the world with a footprint of 3.19 hectares per capita.

Not all of the Arab countries belong to the group of overconsumption. Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco have a per capita ecological footprint that ranges between 1.79 and 1.56 hectares. This implies that each of these countries could increase slightly its level of consumption and yet stay within the global carrying capacity. Sudan on the other hand has an ecological footprint of only 1.14 hectares per capita.

A simple calculation of the total deficit created by the Arab world as a whole reveals the uncomfortable fact that we are in a deficit of about 200 million hectares annually.  If we , as a region, are to take our responsibilities towards a sustainable world seriously then we have no choice but to : (1) adopt strict population policies that would result in decreasing the size of the human population of the region. Stabilizing the population is not acceptable and to continue , unchecked, the current rates of growth in population are immoral and irresponsible. (2) The level of consumption in the region as a whole is excessive and steps must be taken to limit it to levels that would correspond to a sustainable level. (3) No doubt that a few are consuming too much and many do not have enough and this calls for strong redistribution efforts. (4) And lastly we have to confront head on the question of whether any of the above can be realistically achieved under capitalism?

Since it should be clear that the answer to #4  is clearly a resounding no and since we will not change the current societal structure then we should not be surprised when the inevitable collapse takes place. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

  • Sebouh80

    Basically, I understand from this realistic assessment that if countries in the world, and particularly in the Arab world continue with their official mantra with “Business as Usual” model then this will ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences and possibly the annihilation of human civilization as we know it.
    It is quite obvious from this analysis that oil producing states in the Arab world and in addition to Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia are consuming excessive resources and this normally comes at the expense of other countries like Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan who are consuming far less and this is creating unsustainable imbalances.
    The only way to allievate this problem as you mentioned is to reduce consumption on some countries in the Arab countries and bringing it more to ecologically sustainable levels.
    Moreover, the sad reality is that we have an annual deficit equivalent the size of Saudi Arabia and this cannot go on indefinitly.

    Finally, a real solution for lowering the ecological footprint in the Arab world or any other place cannot occur under capitalist economic ideology, because it contradicts one of the main tenets of capitalism which is constant economic growth and consumption of endless commodities. The bad news is that we have finite resources and ulimited appetite of growth.

    Mr.Karam, kindly would it be possible if you send us the article that you obtained your sources.

    I’m interested to know other countries as well besides the Arab world.

    Sebouh.

    • Sebouh,
      The problem of sustainability in the Arab world is much larger than most people think especially due to the rate of growth in population. We are on the road to ruin. BTW, if the world is to live at the level of ecological footprint of the UAE then it will be able to support less than 900 million people when we already have close to 7000 million !!!! You can find the chart with the data at:

      http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_eco_foo-environment-ecological-footprint

    • Ghassankaram

      Sebouh,
      This is my fourth and last try to respond to your post:-) The ecological future of the Arab countries looks bleak because of the high rate of population growth on top of all other issues. But the future for the world as a whole is not any better since no country is willing to work towards a meaningful solution of limiting population, economic growth… Capitalism is NOT compatible with sustainability. It is that simple.
      The data about ecological footprint by country : http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_eco_foo-environment-ecological-footprint

  • Sebouh80

    Basically, I understand from this realistic assessment that if countries in the world, and particularly in the Arab world continue with their official mantra with “Business as Usual” model then this will ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences and possibly the annihilation of human civilization as we know it.
    It is quite obvious from this analysis that oil producing states in the Arab world and in addition to Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia are consuming excessive resources and this normally comes at the expense of other countries like Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan who are consuming far less and this is creating unsustainable imbalances.
    The only way to allievate this problem as you mentioned is to reduce consumption on some countries in the Arab countries and bringing it more to ecologically sustainable levels.
    Moreover, the sad reality is that we have an annual deficit equivalent the size of Saudi Arabia and this cannot go on indefinitly.

    Finally, a real solution for lowering the ecological footprint in the Arab world or any other place cannot occur under capitalist economic ideology, because it contradicts one of the main tenets of capitalism which is constant economic growth and consumption of endless commodities. The bad news is that we have finite resources and ulimited appetite of growth.

    Mr.Karam, kindly would it be possible if you send us the article that you obtained your sources.

    I’m interested to know other countries as well besides the Arab world.

    Sebouh.

    • Sebouh,
      The problem of sustainability in the Arab world is much larger than most people think especially due to the rate of growth in population. We are on the road to ruin. BTW, if the world is to live at the level of ecological footprint of the UAE then it will be able to support less than 900 million people when we already have close to 7000 million !!!! You can find the chart with the data at:

      http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_eco_foo-environment-ecological-footprint

  • Anonymous

    Basically, I understand from this realistic assessment that if countries in the world, and particularly in the Arab world continue with their official mantra with “Business as Usual” model then this will ultimately lead to catastrophic consequences and possibly the annihilation of human civilization as we know it.
    It is quite obvious from this analysis that oil producing states in the Arab world and in addition to Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia are consuming excessive resources and this normally comes at the expense of other countries like Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan who are consuming far less and this is creating unsustainable imbalances.
    The only way to allievate this problem as you mentioned is to reduce consumption on some countries in the Arab countries and bringing it more to ecologically sustainable levels.
    Moreover, the sad reality is that we have an annual deficit equivalent the size of Saudi Arabia and this cannot go on indefinitly.

    Finally, a real solution for lowering the ecological footprint in the Arab world or any other place cannot occur under capitalist economic ideology, because it contradicts one of the main tenets of capitalism which is constant economic growth and consumption of endless commodities. The bad news is that we have finite resources and ulimited appetite of growth.

    Mr.Karam, kindly would it be possible if you send us the article that you obtained your sources.

    I’m interested to know other countries as well besides the Arab world.

    Sebouh.

  • Ghassankaram

    Sebouh,
    This is my fourth and last try to respond to your post:-) The ecological future of the Arab countries looks bleak because of the high rate of population growth on top of all other issues. But the future for the world as a whole is not any better since no country is willing to work towards a meaningful solution of limiting population, economic growth… Capitalism is NOT compatible with sustainability. It is that simple.
    The data about ecological footprint by country : http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_eco_foo-environment-ecological-footprint