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Is Your State Consuming More Than Nature Can Provide?

Our never-ending appetite for food, water, and energy is driving the environment into the ground.

By Jane J. Lee, National Geographic

PUBLISHED July 14, 2015

Get too far into financial debt and creditors come calling. Fall into debt with nature and the consequences can be even more distressing: Hotter temperatures, shrinking farmland, and dried up reservoirs are only a few of the problems we're grappling with as a result of overtaxing the environment.

Data from a new report by the Global Footprint Network looks at which American states are running into the red with Mother Nature through such activities as burning fossil fuels, overfishing, and chopping down forests.

Our analysis looks at each state's ecological capacity—the ability of its environment to provide the resources that the state's residents use everyday, per capita. The numbers take into account how many acres of forest, pasture, cropland, and ocean each state controls. This is what's known as biocapacity. We then compare that to each state's demand for those resources—its ecological footprint.

Ecological creditors are states that use less than their environment can provide. They're staying within nature's budget. Ecological debtors demand more than nature can provide.

Biggest Ecological Debtors

Biocapacity deficit in global acres per person

Maryland - 21.8

Delaware - 20

Connecticut - 19.5

New Jersey - 17.4

Virginia - 17.2

Does not include District of Columbia

SOURCE: Global Footprint NetwoRk

These five states have racked up the most ecological "debt" per person, with Maryland topping the list. Each person in this coastal state would need, on average, 21.8 more acres of land and water to meet their consumption needs. The report goes on to say that Maryland is trying to pay down its debt by conserving wetlands and reducing energy consumption.

Biggest Ecological Creditors

Biocapacity surplus in global acres per person

Alaska - 491.7

South Dakota - 55

Montana - 38.2

Wyoming - 19.4

Nebraska - 17.8

SOURCE: Global Footprint Network

Alaska, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska are in the black with Mother Nature. Alaska far outstrips any state in the U.S. when it comes to surplus ecological capacity, with residents leaving 490 available resource acres on the table.

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