This is an auspicious planetary event, though arguably not one worth celebrating.
For the first time in history, human-made materials now outweigh life on Earth.
A study published in Nature details the tipping point reached this year, when human-made mass, or “anthropogenic mass,” outweighed the approximately 1.1 teratonnes of living biomass on Earth.
“Earth is exactly at the crossover point; in the year 2020 (± 6), the anthropogenic mass, which has recently doubled roughly every 20 years, will surpass all global living biomass,” wrote the team of Emily Elhacham, Liad Ben-Uri, Jonathan Grozovski, Yinon M. Bar-On and Ron Milo, based out of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. “On average, for each person on the globe, anthropogenic mass equal to more than his or her bodyweight is produced every week. This quantification of the human enterprise gives a mass-based quantitative and symbolic characterization of the human-induced epoch of the Anthropocene.”
“Given the empirical evidence on the accumulated mass of human artifacts, we can no longer deny our central role in the natural world,” study authors Emily Elhacham and Ron Milo told CNN in an email.
As Ecowatch reports, the study weighed six categories of anthropogenic mass:
- Metal and polymers
- Wood and paper
The total weight of these six categories outpaced the totality of Earth’s biomass, including all flora and fauna, sometime in 2020. But it didn’t happen overnight.
The researchers estimate that our capacity to create more anthropogenic mass doubles every 20 years. The study infers that every person in the world generates more than their own weight in anthropogenic mass each week, with far more being generated by the construction industry.
While bricks and concrete add up to trillions of tons alone, building materials are second in total weight when compared to plastics, a much younger invention.
“Since the first agricultural revolution, humanity has roughly halved the mass of plants,” the authors wrote in the study. “While modern agriculture utilises an increasing land area for growing crops, the total mass of domesticated crops is vastly outweighed by the loss of plant mass resulting from deforestation, forest management and other land-use changes. These trends in global biomass have affected the carbon cycle and human health.”
The researchers pointed out that they did not factor in the weight of waste, either sitting in landfills, polluting the surface of the Pacific Ocean, or otherwise. Including this material, it’s possible we could have reached this mass event in 2013.
No matter how the data is sliced, this is a wake up call for humanity.
“[W]e hope that once we all have these somewhat shocking figures before our eyes, we can, as a species, take responsibility,” Milo told USA TODAY.
Learn more in the video below.Whizzco