Human Made Materials Now Outweigh All Living Things On Earth
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to know that humans have built a lot of stuff over the centuries, and it looks like our impact on the Earth may have reached a huge, and slightly concerning, milestone.
A new study claims that the total mass of human-made materials may now outweigh that of all living things on Earth. And that’s before we even think about how much of the natural world we’ve already destroyed in the process.
It’s a bit difficult to get our heads around what that actually means, and the figures are equally mind boggling. The overall weight of the Earth’s biomass is estimated to be around 1.1 teratons – or 1,100,000,000,000 tons – 90% of which is made up of plants, with the remaining 10% including humans and animals.
Relatively speaking, it’s taken humans little more than the blink of an eye to catch up. At the start of the 20th century, human output was equal to only 3% of the Earth’s total biomass, with manufacturing only really beginning to skyrocket after the Second World War.
As far as human-made materials are concerned, most of the mass is taken up by materials used in buildings and roads, including concrete, bricks and asphalt. In total, we’re currently producing roughly 30 gigatons – 30,000,000,000 tons – of materials each year, and that’s not even including the amount of waste we produce. Findings by the team from the Israeli Weizmann Institute of Science, were published in the journal Nature this week.
The researchers have stressed that these figures are just an estimate. It’s possible that the milestone was reached within the past decade, or we could still be a few years off. But the study’s goal is mainly to provide a ‘symbolic’ representation of just how severe our impact on the Earth has been.
Emily Elhacham and Ron Milo, who worked on the study, told CNN:
Given the empirical evidence on the accumulated mass of human artifacts, we can no longer deny our central role in the natural world. We are already a major player and with that comes a shared responsibility.
To put these figures into context, on average, the amount of man-made materials produced each week outweighs the combined mass of every human on Earth. The researchers warned that at this rate, human-made mass – including waste – is expected to be more than triple the Earth’s biomass by 2040.
Even more disturbingly, the study estimates that since the start of the agricultural revolution 12,000 years ago, humans have destroyed almost half the Earth’s biomass to make way for their own materials. This is mainly a result of mass deforestation, although hunting, fishing and crop harvesting have also contributed.
We can’t take back what we’ve done to the Earth, but hopefully this study will make us think more about how we can live in harmony with our planet.
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