Carrying Capacity Assessment Model for the Australian Socio-Environmental Context

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* Research PhD: The development of a carrying capacity assessment model for the Australian socioenvironmental context. A THESIS SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING OF QUEENSLAND UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY. By Murray Lane, February 2014



"There are clear signs that society is threatening the biophysical limits of our shared environment and that the size, distribution and behaviour of the population is to blame. The ongoing worsening of crises like water, food, soil and energy depletion, climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation serves to illustrate that the current human situation is not sustainable. The seven billion-strong global human throng is exerting such pressure on our existing societal and environmental systems as to suggest a re-evaluation of existing approaches to the way in which land and resources are managed and to the very structures that allow these problems to escalate. A whole-of-system approach would see a realignment of priorities whereby the economy is viewed as a subsystem of society and the environment provides the backdrop to all societal systems. In order to achieve a sustainable socioenvironmental balance, society’s resources will increasingly need to be produced and accounted for, much closer to where they are to be used. New societal strategies need to be developed in order to cope with the challenges ahead and a re-localised system of resource usage is one potential systemic change that may facilitate more sustainable future lifestyles. Carrying capacity assessment provides one important tool for estimating the ability of landscapes to support the demands of local populations. Carrying capacity assessment offers a way to assess our resource needs and also determine how best to meet these needs in the future. This process establishes direct causal relationships between a specific landscape, timeframe and people, and inherently links these aspects to systems of land usage and social function.

A key aim of this research is to highlight how society’s understanding of constraints to the productive capacity of its resource base is vital to its long-term survival. This was achieved through the development of an online model, the Carrying Capacity Dashboard, which links a population to the potential biophysical capacity of its environment. By accessing and reconfiguring existing data, this research has developed a flexible, robust and easily-accessible carrying capacity assessment tool. It offers user choices relating to climate, diet, land-use, agricultural techniques, energy consumption and nature conservation, and also provides dynamic responses to online users. This educative feature is a valuable innovation to carrying capacity modelling which can assist in future societal decision-making processes relating to consumption patterns, land-use planning, population control and systems design.

Analysis developed from the Dashboard tests the effects of various resource consumption patterns on carrying capacity and highlights the degree to which various regions are over or under capacity. Three scales of analysis were employed – national, state and regional; and it was found that the most significant determinant of carrying capacity is the proportion of cropping land within any one state or region. Findings also reveal that Australia’s current short-term carrying capacity is estimated to be over 40 million. However, if calculated on a regional basis, the nation’s carrying capacity is reduced by almost half, suggesting that national resource utilisation would currently be more efficient than at the regional scale, even though future resource constraints may necessitate greater regional self-sufficiency. Longterm projections were also tested and carrying capacities both at a large and small scale were found to be much smaller in a future fossil-fuel depleted context. Ultimately, this research indicates that an entire systemic change is required to place society back on the path towards sustainability. Such changes entail a future decentralisation of the population, agricultural and recycling practices instituted at local or regional scales and a rapid reduction in the reliance on non-renewable resources."


The historical section seems of particular interest:

  • 4.2 Historic carrying capacity assessment and maintenance ...................................64
  • 4.2.1 Aboriginal Australia....................................................................................65
  • 4.2.2 The Maring Tsembaga people of Papua New Guinea ................................66
  • 4.2.3 Tokugawan Japan........