NPR : News

What If The World Cup Were Awarded For Saving Trees And Drinking Soda?

The World Cup is down to four teams: Argentina, Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands. We've seen how these nations perform on the soccer field. But how do they perform in the fields of health and development?


The big loser in the semifinals of the World Cup is also lagging behind on the poverty ladder. Roughly 10 percent of Brazil's population — 20 million people — live on less than $2 a day. In Argentina, the figure is below 2 percent. In Germany and the Netherlands, it's basically zero. No wonder Brazilians were so upset that the government spent billions of dollars on soccer stadiums.

Life Expectancy

There's a tie for first place here. The average German and Dutch citizen can expect to live to age 81. In Argentina, the number is 76. Bringing up the rear once again is Brazil, at 74. But all four nations are relatively close to the country with the highest life expectancy: Japan, at 83 years. And they're decades ahead of the country with the lowest: Sierra Leone, at 45.


Who's been hacking down the most trees? In terms of deforestation rate, the loser is Argentina, which has been clearing nearly 1 percent of its trees each year for the past decade. Next worst is Brazil, which has been felling about 1/2 of 1 percent of its forested land annually. But because Brazil has more forested land than the other three countries — 2 million square miles, including the Amazon — it's the loser in terms of total trees chopped. Germany has been perfectly conserving its forested land for a decade — a zero percent change. And the Netherlands is actually slowly growing its forests.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Germany is the biggest polluter of the four by a wide margin: 745,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Next is Brazil at 420,000. Argentina and the Netherlands are neck and neck, with Argentina emitting slightly less CO2 per year: 181,000 to 182,000. Just as they did in the World Cup semifinal, the Argentines have managed to edge out the Dutch.

Goats And Soda

Okay, so goats and soda are not actual development indicators. But when you're writing for a blog called "Goats and Soda," how can you ignore them? And they're certainly fun to think about. In terms of soda consumption, Argentina takes the cake — and washes it down with a Coke. Argentines consume, on average, around 38 gallons of soda a year. That's more than one 12-ounce can a day. Next comes Germany, at 25.6 gallons. Brazil slurps down 21, and the Netherlands 18. None of these countries, however, can touch the United States, where the average person downs more than 42 gallons of soda a year. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Last but not least, meat. It's a bit harder to award a trophy for goat eating. Goat is combined with mutton in meat consumption statistics. In that category, the Dutch are the winners: 4.7 pounds per person per year. For overall meat consumption, Argentina claims first place by devouring 202 pounds of meat a person each year — more than half a pound of meat per day. Next is Germany at 194 pounds, then Brazil at 178, and the Netherlands at 156.

And The Winner Is ...

Unlike the real World Cup, there's no clear winner in our health and development tournament. Germany and the Netherlands lead in most categories — no surprise there — followed by Argentina. Brazil lags behind. But if you look at improvements over the past decade, Brazil comes out on top in many categories. For example, the nation has cut its infant mortality rates from 5.2 percent to 1.3 percent over the past two decades — a 75 percent reduction. No other nation in the final four can make that claim.

Sources: The World Bank, Euromonitor International

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit


A Compelling Plot Gives Way To Farce In Franzen's Purity

The new novel reveals sharp observations and a great, sprawling story. But critic Roxane Gay says the book gets bogged down with absurdly-drawn characters and misfired critiques of modern life.

Huge Fish Farm Planned Near San Diego Aims To Fix Seafood Imbalance

The aquaculture project would be the same size as New York's Central Park and produce 11 million pounds of yellowtail and sea bass each year. But some people see it as an aquatic "factory farm."
WAMU 88.5

Europe's Ongoing Migrant And Refugee Crisis And The Future Of Open Borders

The Austria-Hungary border has become the latest pressure point in Europe's ongoing migrant crisis. An update on the huge influx of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa and the future of open borders within the E.U.

WAMU 88.5

Environmental Outlook: How to Build Smarter Transportation And More Livable Cities

A new report says the traffic in the U.S. is the worst it has been in years. Yet, some urban transportation experts say there's reason to be optimistic. They point to revitalized city centers, emerging technology and the investment in alternative methods of transportation. A conversation about how we get around today, and might get around tomorrow.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.