Carrying Capacity

Carrying capacity surveillance: Indicators and frameworks for equitable sustainability

Despite the increasing scope, volume and availability of data-driven initiatives to track the growth and changes that comprise the Anthropocene, the layering of assessment methodologies, sector-specific considerations, and a tendency to focus upon local or regional case studies for evaluation presents significant challenges for linking public policy, decision-making and practitioner perspectives with such data. In addition to broader technocratic gaps that emphasize interpretation by others, rather than interaction between policy-makers and data, the growing complexity of data provision, intersectoral affect, and jurisdictional barriers present roadblocks for our understanding, modeling and use of environmental, community, economic and health data. This creates a fundamental challenge for the frameworks and models that seek to better understand and predict the impacts of human action upon social, ecological, economic, institutional and health systems: How can we best measure, interpret and use the data within these frameworks to both understand the "state" of carrying capacity, but also leverage policy performance as a response?

This knowledge synthesis project seeks to inventory, catalogue, and assess the numerous Canadian-based indicator and indices-based frameworks focused on measuring the different dimensions of carrying capacity. Dimensions of carrying capacity include the 5 pillars of sustainable development, human and cumulative impacts, and their intersection with population health. Utilizing a broadly comparative method, this projects positions that inventory against three core research questions:

  1. How do contemporary data collection and measurement initiatives select, aggregate and represent key performance measures that link social, ecological, economic and population health changes?
  2. How do such initiatives rise to the integration imperative, and specifically the modeling or representation of change (both positive and negative) within, and across, related sectors?
  3. How are such initiatives positioned to inform decision-making and action, whether across private, public or third sectors?

This project runs from March 2020 to February 2021. Research funding for this project is provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.