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.

Carrying capacity and vertical farming

I recently received a query from one of my architecture students who intended integrating vertical farming into their design proposition. He says: I've been looking at vertical farming and have been basing my calculations on this document ( which says that 930 square metres (10,000 square feet) will provide a 2000 calorie diet for 330 people. Does this seem realistic?

The document referred to was a speculative proposal put forward by a New York architect, and the claims relating to the productivity of vertical farming were not referenced to any background documents to explain how such a small area might feed so many people. This was my response:

There is certainly a big discrepancy between what this American author is saying and the calculations for Australia based on my Carrying Capacity Dashboard. They state that it is possible to feed a population 2000 kilojoules a day on what amounts to 28m2 (300 square feet) of hydroponic production while at the moment, in Southeast Queensland, according to the Dashboard modelling, it takes roughly about 1.1 hectares per person (with 100% irrigation) for 1746 kilojoules. That’s 28m2 versus 11,000m2: about a 40,000% difference!

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.