The scope, volume and availability of data to assess the Earth’s carrying capacity has increased significantly. However, there are a number of barriers to the use of such data and their linkage to public policy. Barriers include a focus on sector-specific considerations and localized case studies, the growing complexity of data provision and jurisdictional obstacles. These present significant challenges for understanding, modelling and using environmental, community, economic and health data—and linking public policy, decision-making and practitioner perspectives with such data. This creates a fundamental challenge for the frameworks and models that seek to better understand the impact of human action and consumption upon social, ecological, economic, institutional and health systems.
This study asked: How can the data within these frameworks be best measured, interpreted and used to both understand the “state” of carrying capacity data and measurement and also leverage policy performance as a response? Utilizing a scoping review method, this project inventoried and assessed 109 peer-reviewed and non-academic studies from Canada and across the globe. Of these, 46 are Canadian studies. The findings from this project broadly suggest that very little is known about carrying capacity and society in Canada or globally.
Key implications for policy change moving forward include:
- Attention needs to be paid to how carrying capacity is conceptualized, the different understandings of carrying capacity and the application of carrying capacity at scale—from the micro and local to global population and planetary health. How carrying capacity is understood is important because it helps determine well-targeted policies and assumptions, which underlie government programs and research priorities.
- Policy-makers must pay attention to explicit linkages and integrated measurements across sectors, including ecological, health, socio-demographic and economic factors. Despite repeated and ongoing calls for integrated approaches and measurements of carrying capacity, this is not happening within the research community. The importance of integration cannot merely be stated, but must also actively measure and compare data consistently across sectors, regions and population dynamics
- Standardization of indicators, measurements and data collection is needed nationwide. Cross-sectional and longitudinal data must be identified, collected and measured across the country while recognizing the importance of local values and interpretability. National targets and indicators, which speak to local contexts and complement international goals, should be developed to promote consistency and comparability across jurisdictions.