As we begin to address global challenges such as climate change, peak oil and over-population it is becoming apparent that we must re-orientate our society towards lower energy availability. This means that in the future, we will need to live in a world where our resources are produced and accounted for much closer to home. We will need to begin to live within the long term carrying capacity of our landscapes.

A prototype Carrying Capacity Dashboard has been developed to estimate the productive capacity of the Australian landscape at various scales: national, state and regional.

The Dashboard allows you to test how many people the resources of a certain area may support as well as determining how various lifestyle choices can influence land-use requirements. You can assess options such as a population’s diet, agricultural techniques, energy usage and recycling practices to gain real-time results. This form of modelling can help determine optimal placement, size and configuration of future human settlement as well as promoting societal behaviour consistent with the limits imposed by the natural environment.

The Carrying Capacity Dashboard is a prototype only and is currently being developed by Murray Lane as part of his PhD at Queensland University of Technology. We value your feedback on the Dashboard, and also your contribution to the Carrying Capacity Blog below.

Global Models - Ecological Footprint

Authors such as Meadows et al.[i] and Catton[ii] described global carrying capacity overshoot in the 1970s and 1980s in theoretical terms without the ability to adequately measure it. The problem they faced included the sheer size of the exercise on a global scale together with the complication of incalculable amounts of imports and exports of resources and environmental impacts flowing between regions. To combat this challenge, Mathis Wackernagel, and his thesis supervisor William Rees, developed an approach in the early 1990s known as Ecological Footprint analysis[iii] which converted human activity into land requirements with the aim of establishing its ecological impact.[iv]

Ecological Footprint is an inversion of the carrying capacity approach. While carrying capacity assessment begins with a specific landscape and derives a population per area outcome, Ecological Footprint takes a population and estimates a land requirement per person result.[v] Accordingly, it first determines the demands of the population, either at a global or local scale and then calculates the amount of land that this set of lifestyle parameters would require. The land requirement however, could be drawn from anywhere on the planet,[vi] is consequently usually measured in global hectares, and illustrates the condition of ecological overshoot when exceeding the actual land available. Given the globalised nature of modern trade, proponents of this approach argue that Ecological Footprint analysis is thus an accurate representation of existing circumstances.[vii]

 Global Footprint Network’s online Footprint Calculator. The user takes on an avatar who inhabits a suburban scene which is progressively illustrated while lifestyle choices are made. Then, at the end of the process, the user is informed of their global footprint and the proportion of land-uses required such as land for food, shelter, mobility, goods and services.