Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 313–349

Optimum Supportable Global Population: Water Accounting and Dietary Considerations



In this paper we develop a novel, comprehensive method for estimating the global human carrying capacity in reference to food production factors and levels of food consumption. Other important interrelated dimensions of carrying capacity such as energy, non-renewable resources, and ecology are not considered here and offer opportunities for future work. Use of grain production (rain-fed/irrigated), animal product production (grazing/factory farm), diet pattern (grain/animal products), and a novel water accounting method (demand/supply) based on actual water consumption and not on withdrawal, help resolve uncertainties to find better estimates. Current Western European food consumption is used as a goal for the entire world. Then the carrying capacity lies in the range of 4.5–4.7 billion but requiring agricultural water use increase by 450–530% to 4725–5480 km3, the range based on different estimates of available water. The cost of trapping and conveying such water, will run 4.5–13.5 trillion over 50 years requiring an annual spending increase of 150–400%, straining the developing world where most of the population increase is expected. We reconfirm estimates in the literature using a dynamic model. ‘Corner scenarios’ with extreme optimistic assumptions were analyzed using the reasoning support software system GLOBESIGHT. With a hypothetical scenario with a mainly vegetarian diet (grazing only with 5% animal product), the carrying capacity can be as high as 14 billion. Ecological deterioration that surely accompanies such a population increase would negatively impact sustainable population. Using our approach the impact of ecological damage could be studied. Inter- and intra-regional inequities are other considerations that need to be studied.


carrying capacity estimates food production and consumption scenario analysis water use accounting 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gundo Susiarjo
    • 1
  • Sree N. Sreenath
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ali M. Vali
    • 1
  1. 1.Global Systems LaboratoryUSA
  2. 2.UNESCO Global Problematique Education Network Initiative (GENIe)ClevelandUSA
  3. 3.Electrical Engineering and Computer Science DepartmentCase Western Reserve UniversityClevelandUSA

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