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.

Localising the Dashboard

How to apply Carrying Capacity Dashboard calculations to smaller areas...

Modelling for the Carrying Capacity Dashboard is offered at three different geographic scales within the Australian context – national, state and regional. However, it is also possible to use this modelling to make estimates for even smaller areas. It is important to note, however, that if using the following procedures to model local area carrying capacities, the agricultural yield data will be reflective of the larger region rather than of the local area. In some cases local conditions may be very similar to the regional context, but this might not always be so.

The following instructions apply to two potential approaches: firstly for those who have an area of land in mind and wish to know how many people it can support and secondly, for those wondering how much land would be required to support a certain number of people.

Scenario 1: How many people can my local area support?

1. Open the Dashboard ( and choose the region in which your local area falls (ie. choose the state, then the region). For example, if you wished to test the carrying capacity of say, the Noosa Biosphere, then choose the South East Qld region.
2. Reduce the land area amounts to match the smaller zone, so replace the figures for cropping, pasture, non-agricultural, infrastructure, nature reserve and population. You will need to source your own data on this. The following figures are estimates for the Noosa Biosphere Reserve based on land capability mapping* rather than existing usage so it is assumed that land is to be used agriculturally to its full potential:

CROPPING: 161 km2
PASTURE: 369 km2
TOTAL LAND: should equal 887 km2


3. The Dashboard should now be giving you a projected estimate of the local area’s carrying capacity. However, this is not the end of the story – you now need to adjust the various other parameters to reflect the behavioural patterns of your anticipated population. How much meat-eggs do they eat? Are they physically active or sedentary? Do you wish to increase or decrease the nature reserve?

Lastly, if you wish to maintain the same amount of nature reserve as currently existing then you should also adjust the Nature Reserve percentage (bottom right parameter). To do this, divide the current nature reserve amount by the total land amount and multiply by 100. So, in the case of the Noosa Biosphere Reserve, dividing 223km2 by 887km2 gives 25%.

Scenario 2: How much land does my community require to be self sufficient in food?

1. Open the Dashboard ( and choose the region in which your local area falls (ie. choose the state, then the region). For this example, let’s presume that we wish to establish a community for say 1000 people somewhere in the South East Qld region.

2. The Dashboard is actually set up to estimate population numbers based on known land areas rather than the other way around, but with some adjustment you can still achieve this aim. You will need to isolate the relevant food parameters first so reduce all slider-bar parameters (eg. Total food, Meat-eggs etc.) to zero (or the lowest amount possible). This should change the carrying capacity to some unrealistically large number temporarily.

3. Also reduce the land areas and population down to zero (eg. cropping, pasture etc.). You do this by typing over the existing km2 numbers.

4. Now, adjust just the Food parameters: Total food (100% for complete self-sufficiency), Meat-eggs (current trend is 13% but this is generally considered too high), Red meat (as a comparison to white meat), Activity level, Avoidable waste and Recycling. You may also wish to stipulate the percentage of Organic and Irrigated farmland.

5. Type in the population you wish to accommodate in the Current population box (just below Total land). For this example, it would be 1000.

6. In order to determine the total amount of land required for food just adjust the amount of Cropping land (in the Land areas section) until the Population carrying capacity matches your proposed new current population (eg. 1000).

7. It is now also possible to determine how much land each part of the diet requires by looking at the pie-chart titled Land requirements: by usage for food. If you hover over particular parts of the pie-chart, the km2 amount appears. Alternatively, for more detailed calculations you could divide the percentages given (eg. Red meat 64%) by the Total land area.

*Acknowledgments: Thank you to Paul Summers Planning Strategies for assistance in compiling land use capability figures.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Murray, an excellent conversion to a smaller scale - this will bring the tool into closer alignment with the concerns of the majority of the population rather than the more strategic planners and agricultural scientists (I trust they are concerned ;-). We must all be concerned about the implications, so making them available in this way is a big step forward.

    I expect that a tailored 'front end' could allow an easier 'user interface'? And, that as local information gaps are identified, more refined data collected, and targeted research conducted to fill these gaps, community engagement might really start to involve and inform communities in better understanding their systemic options and self-governance requirements within their system - if they intend to try to stay as things change around them... Kind regards, Neil