Let's talk about humanity's legacy on Earth, particularly our roads, houses, skyscrapers, cars, plastics and all those other things we're busy churning out. It's a lot. So much that it may now equal or exceed the mass of all life on Earth.
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have run the numbers on human-produced materials (anthropogenic mass) and compared it with the planet's biomass (the mass of all living things, including plants and animals), and found that the scales have tipped toward humanity's creations.
The team published the study on Wednesday in the journal Nature. "We find that 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," the study said.
Humanity has been adding to its population and using up biomass (deforestation is an example of this) while churning out stuff at an incredible pace. We're not slowing down. The study suggests human-made mass could reach more than double the planet's biomass by 2040.
"The message to both the policy makers and the general public is that we cannot dismiss our role as a tiny one in comparison to the huge Earth," study co-author Ron Milo said in a Weizmann Institute of Science statement on Wednesday.
The research team pointed to an upswing in use of concrete and aggregates as building materials as one major source of human-made mass. The paper connects anthropogenic mass to impacts on climate, human health and the natural world.
The team collaborated on a website, Anthropomass.org, to help bring some perspective to the huge numbers in the research. For example, it shows how the Eiffel Tower in France is equal to the weight of about 10,000 white rhinos. New York City weighs about the same as all the fish on Earth.
"We hope that once we all have these somewhat shocking figures before our eyes," Milo said, "we can, as a species, behave more responsibly."