Skip to main content

Carrying Capacity

Go Search
Home
About
New Atlas
Atlas, A-Z
Atlas Maps
MPP/MPA Programs
Subjects
Core Topics
Illustrative Courses
Topic Encyclopedia
Concept Dictionary
Competencies
Career Tips
IGOs
Best Practices Project


 
Carrying Capacity 

The ability for the Earth and its natural ecosystems including social, economic, and cultural systems to support the finite number of people on the planet.

Schwartz & Randall, 2003, pp. 15-16 

 

Some prominent economists and other scholars are concerned that carrying capacity, which is the ability for the Earth and its natural ecosystems including social, economic, and cultural systems to support the finite number of people on the planet, is being challenged around the world. In particular, many such individuals are concerned that a rapid increase in the rate of the global warming may provoke a crisis. Figure 1 shows how abrupt climate change may cause human carrying capacity to fall below usage of the eco-system, suggesting insufficient resources leading to a contraction of the population through war, disease, and famine.

According to the International Energy Agency, global demand for oil will grow by 66% in the next 30 years, but it’s unclear where the supply will come from. Clean water is similarly constrained in many areas around the world, and due to the growing global population, the demand for water is likely to continue to increase in coming years. Growing demand combined with a finite supply of these, and other important resources, have caused some to worry that the earth is approaching or has already reached its carrying capacity for human beings.

Many point to technological innovation and adaptive behaviour as a means for managing the global ecosystem. Indeed, technological progress has increased carrying capacity over time. Over centuries, we have learned how to produce more food, energy and access more water. However, it is possible that the development of new technologies will be insufficient if a crisis, such as that which could be caused by a rapid period of global warming, were to occur.

 

Figure 1 – Decreasing Carrying Capacity

 


Important Notices
© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance