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TRENDING SCIENCE: In a first, human-made objects will outweigh all living things on Earth

Earth will soon be home to more materials made by man than all life, say scientists.

Fundamental Research

According to a study published in the journal ‘Nature’, all the concrete, asphalt, metal and plastic we’ve ever made will weigh more than all animals and plants by the end of 2020. In terms of biomass (all living things on the planet), Earth will be more artificial than biological. We humans have consumed or destroyed much of the natural world.

Giant human footprint stomps on ecological footprint

“The significance is symbolic in the sense that it tells us something about the major role that humanity now plays in shaping the world and the state of the Earth around us,” Prof. Ron Milo, who led the research at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, told the ‘BBC’. “It is a reason for all of us to ponder our role, how much consumption we do and how can we try to get a better balance between the living world and humanity.” Currently, the mass of human-created stuff weighs in at about 1.1 trillion tonnes. The researchers calculated the combined mass of all human-made things from 1900 to today. They compared this with the weight of all biomass. The team divided human-made objects into six major categories: concrete, aggregates (e.g. sand, gravel), bricks, asphalt, metals, and other materials, including plastic and wood. Waste wasn’t included in the calculations. The findings show that plants make up about 90 % of the total weight of living things. The scientists estimate that human-made mass is currently being produced at a rate of 30 gigatonnes a year. If this trend continues, human-made mass – waste included – should exceed 3 teratonnes by 2040. This will triple the weight of all living things.

It’s time to rethink mass production

“The study provides a symbolic and mass-based quantitative characterization of the Anthropocene -- the geological age of ‘the era of humanity,’” lead author Emily Elhacham and Prof. Milo 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.” Fridolin Krausmann, a professor at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna who wasn’t involved in the study, hopes that societies can reverse the dizzying rates of consumption and learn how to grow sustainably. “It’s the two highly problematic trends, that the study relates here, that are important: The comparatively slow, but long-term, continuous human-induced reduction of the global biomass stock vis-à-vis the exponentially growing anthropogenic (human-made) mass.” He added: “Better knowledge about the dynamics and patterns of anthropogenic mass, and how it is linked to service provision and resource flows is key for sustainable development. The big question is how much anthropogenic mass do we need for a good life.” Say hello to 2021, where the concrete jungle says more about our gluttony for human consumption than the jungle we all grew up knowing as a dense forest in some tropical climate.

Keywords

biomass, human-made, human-made mass, living things, human-made object, human-made thing, anthropogenic, Earth