Human-made stuff now outweighs all forms of life on planet earth

The amount of human-made (artificial) materials on Earth is growing fast. It is estimated that artificial objects will exceed the weight of living things by the end of this year.

Often in my childhood textbooks, I read the fact that humans are a part of nature. Humans cannot live without the services that nature provides, but nature can probably survive without humans, especially man-made (artificial) services. Environmentalists often say that humanity needs to shrink its planetary footprint. In an astonishing sign of the impact that humans possess on our planet, a recent study found that the weight of human-made objects will likely exceed the weight of living things by the end of the year 2020.

In other words, the study suggests that the giant human footprint stamped across the world in 2020 is greater than the impact on the planet of all other living things.  This recently published study has demonstrated: How literally massive that human footprint is, and the weight of artificial things is soon going to outweigh the total mass of Earth’s living biomass.

I think there would be no disagreement if I say that human civilization is built on lots of stuff. From roads and buildings to cars and plastic, humans have brought the world to a crossover point where human-made mass exceeds the overall living biomass on Earth. As per the study, on average, every person in the world is responsible for the creation of human-made matter equal to more than their body weight each week. Can you imagine?

Human-made materials outweigh living biomass

Scientists at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, through this research, wanted to provide an objective and rigorous measure of the reality of the balance between humans and nature. Researchers believe that humans have constructed more buildings, roads, structures, and objects over the last 120 years, and therefore have estimated that the mass of human-produced materials has grown from less than 0.1 teratonnes to roughly 1 teratonne (1 trillion tonnes).

The amount of man-made items made every year is in teratonnes since 1900. Researchers believe the dry wight of the world’s biomass is likely to reach around 1.1 teratonnes by the end of 2020. (Credit: Daily Mail)

The study also estimated that the amount of plastic alone is greater in mass than all land animals and marine creatures combined on earth. In order to make their calculations, the researchers divided human-made objects into six main categories: Concrete, aggregates (including materials like gravel), bricks, asphalt, metals, and “other” materials, which include plastic, wood used for construction and paper, and glass.

It was also revealed that at the beginning of the 20th century, the mass of human-produced objects was equal to about 3 percent of the world’s total biomass. But in 2020, the human-made mass has reached about 1.1 teratonnes, exceeding overall global biomass. The researchers also found that artificial materials have been increasing in size rapidly since the beginning of the 20th century, doubling every 20 years.

During this study, the researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science integrated a vast number of existing datasets for their calculation to show how humans are transforming the Earth.

Anthropogenic mass

About half of the world’s current human-made mass is concrete. The so-called “anthropogenic mass” of artificial materials is growing exponentially in recent years. As per the new research, the mass of everything people have built and made, from concrete pavements and glass-and-metal skyscrapers to plastic bottles, clothes, and computers, is now roughly equal to the mass of living things on Earth is continuously increasing and creating a disbalance in nature.

For the last five years, humans have produced on average 30 gigatonnes (30 billion tonnes) of material every year. If current trends continue, human-produced materials will increasingly grow in quantity by 2040, according to the study.

Human’s activity: A dominant force

The findings in the new study are further evidence of the fact that we are living through a new geological era in which human activity is the dominant force shaping Earth’s climate and environment, which scientists have dubbed the Anthropocene.

Scientists believe that some people think that humanity is just one species out of many, present on the planet. Humans often believe that they’re tiny and the world is huge. But let’s not forget the fact that our impact is not at all tiny, and with this new study, it is quite clear.

The study-published has come at a point where we can efforts to quantify and evaluate the scale and impact of human activities on our planet. There is an urgent need for all of us to re-evaluate our contribution to environmental problems on our planet. I think this study is a wake-up call for every person on earth. We can obviously not stop living without material things but can definitely think of its impact and can reduce our consumption.

Author: Mahima Joshi

Mahima Joshi is a writer at The Wonk. She is a postgraduate in Journalism, who is just curious about everything that is happening around. She is an enthusiastic reader especially concerning gender dynamics in mythological stories.

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