I'm creating a world where it's impossible for human civilization do develop to the point that they could start seriously destroying habitats. I'm not even talking about the industrial revolution. Humans have had a big impact even before then. I believe forests in Europe were greatly reduced when the Age of Exploration started. Should I stop them from advancing past basic "put a thing in the ground and let it grow" agriculture? If so, how can I achieve this?


To be clear, I'm not talking about humans not hunting things to extinction. It's impossible to have humans on a planet and not have them do that. Also, it looks like agriculture already does severe damage to habitats. So should I do something to make agriculture completely unviable?

Edit 2:

It's clear that my understanding was wrong from the beginning. Please close this question.

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    $\begingroup$ The title asks about "destroying" habitats, the body of the questions talks about "damaging" habitats, so there's a difference there already. What is a habitat? Is each tree a habitat, so humans shouldn't be able to progress to the point of chopping one down? (Even if beavers do?) What about the area needed to clear one field? What if human activities - such as regular burning of bushland - are part of the "natural" cycle, however you define it? Without better definition of the terms involved, this is unanswerable. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 2:06
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    $\begingroup$ Agriculture is a major change to environment. You are asking how to stop on the proverbial slippery slope that you have placed yourself upon? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 2:31
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    $\begingroup$ If you allow them to progress to the stage where they have agriculture, then it is too late. Agriculture is the one human activity responsible for the great bulk of what you call habitat destruction. (Most people would call it development, but what do they know.) Compared to agriculture, the impact of industry is minor. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 2:32
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    $\begingroup$ (a) You're treating humanity as if it's an aberration, something not natural that's upsetting nature. That's a lovely eco-warrior sentiment, but it's entirely false. We may not be using our brains very well, but what we do to habitats is entirely natural and if we drive ourselves into extinction because of it, that's entirely natural, too. (b) Humanity has yet to have or bring to bear the life-ending power of the Chicxulub meteor (billions of nuclear explosions). We're a long way away from irreversible damage (which I've heard eco-warriors claim will happen "in the next... (*continued*) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ ... 5 years!" since the 70s. (c) If you want to stop humanity from screwing things up, you'll need to stop Creation at the Fifth day. (c) I once owned a micro-publisher. We reviewed hundreds of "Bad Human!" books. It gets old. A book about how Humanity could realistically fix the problem would be nice for once (because getting us to drive electric cars is meaningless when most of the pollution is from planes, trains, ocean freight, and agriculture...). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 5:27

4 Answers 4


The dawn of time. Remove life entirely. Every organism alters the environment around it.

All life exists in an energy gradient. As energy flows past (eg light from the sun), life absorbs it and uses it. By converting a source of energy into a lower form of energy, the environment is altered.

For example:
Plants use light to create glucose from carbon dioxide and water, and by stripping the carbon from CO2, they release oxygen gas. Thus a plant is perfectly capable of destroying the habitat of an organism not equipped to live in a high-oxygen environment. This happened about 2.4 billion years ago, in 'the great oxygenation event.' It is inferred that this was likely a mass extinction event, though it is hard to tell because oxygen is highly corrosive.... Complete and utter habitat destruction.

For all we know, the anaerobic bacteria that lived before plants performed a similar mass-environment-change-extinction on whatever came before them, and on and on.

Life is, by definition, a destructive force. It is never in equilibrium with its environment, and will always alter the habitat of other species.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. This is more helpful than I expected. $\endgroup$
    – zucculent
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 22:35

Stop humanity.

There are places in the British Isles where the landscape shows signs of irreparable damage from farming in the Neolithic times. The arrival of humanity in the Americas was promptly followed by their driving to extinction the characteristic megafauna, with recognizable impact on the atmosphere, a decrease in methane.

There is no time at which humanity, like any other animal, could not affect environments in a manner you might deem "destructive."

  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking about this? Because if you're not, early American colonizers did not hunt the bison to extinction. Close! But no. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 5:33
  • $\begingroup$ Bison came in at the same time as the humans. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 13:49
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I think this refers to the time period roughly 20.000 until 10.000 years ago. Within these 10.000 years more animals went extinct in the Americas than in the 1 million years before. The first humans in the Americas were the cause. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @quarague Humans have been in the Americas long before 10,000 years ago. 14,000 years ago, humans were in a cave in Oregon. There are indications that humans might have been in the Americas for many thousands of years before that (this is being debated and is not solid yet). $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidR That is precisely the time period I was referring to, somewhere between 20.000 and 10.000 years ago, when humans first arrived in the Americas and wiped out a whole bunch of species who had never seen a human before. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 16:32

The largest change to the environment starts with agriculture. Before that invention, humanity lived over most of the globe in hunter gatherer mode. In that mode, we needed low human density / large land areas in which to hunt. Thus, there weren't enough humans to make a significant difference to the environment. Once agriculture started, we started modifying the environment by herding cattle (which released more methane into the air keeping the environment from going back into an ice age) and by farming. Agriculture also increased population as the same amount of land can support 10 times as many people when farmed vs. hunter gatherer.

Preventing humans from starting to herd cattle and grow crops will prevent higher population and most of the environmental changes we have today.


Before Homo habilis

Archaeologists have taken the most simple stone tool and went to cut down a forest. They succeeded to take out a small forest within less than a week. Then they found that Neanderthals did destroy a whole forest using just rocks and fire.

Homo habilis used simple tools. That already is the road to the destruction of whole habitats. So Humanity can't develop into Homo habilis.


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