Kirsten Henderson and Michel Loreau

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This work looks at human population changes throughout history and the possible drivers of the change, with a focus on two drivers, land cover and technological development. We compare the similarities and differences in societies from Paleolithic populations—nomadic, hunter-gatherers—to contemporary wealthy individuals—stable, aging populations. We find that the access to resources over time, including food, water, material goods, education, and technology, can explain the number of births and deaths in the population. We then apply this to make projections about future populations.


As the number of individuals on the planet continues to grow, much research has focused on the agricultural production needed to maintain the population. However, we suggest that agriculture has played a critical role in growing the population, but the benefits from nature are ultimately needed to maintain the human population. Technology has a large impact on human population, both on peak population size and when or if the population stabilizes. Technology has the ability to make fewer resources stretch further, yet this also makes technology precarious, as it separates individuals from the environment. Whereby, individuals are less aware of the origins of resources and the impact on the environment. Although often overlooked, the ecosystem services provided by nature are essential for maintaining functioning of global systems such as air quality regulation, pollination, raw materials, and pest management. The highest well-being for both humans and the environment depends on maintaining natural land and large-scale distribution of technology and innovation.