Earth's Carrying Capacity

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= "the next economy will have to balance the needs of Earth’s expanding population with the shrinking level of resources which are available to everyone".


James Quilligan:

"Earth is exceeding its ability to replenish its own resources. Each year, human beings consume our natural stocks at about 160% of their sustainable yield. Obviously, we cannot continue to use resources faster than the planet can replenish them without serious ecological and socioeconomic consequences.

Economic Democracy Advocates recognizes that the next economy will have to balance the needs of Earth’s expanding population with the shrinking level of resources which are available to everyone. This dynamic equilibrium is called carrying capacity. It is a middle path between the faster, geometric growth rates of human population, individual consumption and economic production, and the slower, arithmetic replenishment rates of water, food and fossil fuels.


Carrying capacity has never been a core part of our conventional economic system. Somehow, civilization neglected to measure the differences between the needs of an increasing population and the diminishing resources available for each person. Somewhere along the line, we forgot how to inventory and quantify our commons and plan for the long-term future.

The goal is for renewable resources to be harvested or used at the same rate at which they replenish themselves, and for non-renewable resources to be extracted and consumed by the present generation at a significantly slower rate to preserve these commons for future generations.

The next three or four generations represent our last chance to safeguard the Earth’s essential hydrological, nitrogen and carbon cycles from the destructive business cycle of production, trade and consumption. By the end of this century, it will be nearly impossible for the human race to transform this failed system of resource extraction and predatory exchange, and embark on an ecological path which is not plagued by economic scarcity and social unrest." (EDA News, June 28, 2017)


The need for measurement

James Quilligan:

"Economic Democracy Associates is dedicated to both community-building and empirical research in the protection of declining resources. We’re measuring the sustainable yields of American counties and bioregions as a way to define, apportion and distribute what every person needs, and ensure that the commons are healthy and accessible for future generations.

At the same time, EDA is introducing this evidence-based framework to a broad constituency across the United States through research, education, training, advocacy and legislation. We want to see carrying capacity — computing the maximum number of people which can be supported by the resources available within an environment — become a practical and enduring foundation for social policy." (EDA News, June 28, 2017)

More Information

  • Guide to Carrying Capacity, Vol. 1, available from EDA
  • Contact the EDA Carrying Capacity Team:
  1. Patti Ellis: [email protected]
  2. James Quilligan: [email protected]