The sum of the objects constructed by mankind has just surpassed the sum of the mass of life forms on earth for the first time, according to a survey carried out by Israeli researchers.
The so-called anthropogenic mass, as it was called, exceeded the mark of 1.1 teratons (or 1.1 trillion tons) in 2020 and, according to the authors of the study, has doubled every 20 years over the past century.
The conversion of natural raw materials into human artifacts has grown so dizzying that the new objects of our species exceed the body weight of every human living today every week, according to the study, which was just published in the journal Nature by a team from the Weizmann Institute of Science .
“It would take us decades to collect all of this data. Fortunately, this has been studied by scientists in the field of material flow analysis for years, ”explained the coordinator of the study, Ron Milo, from the Weizmann Institute for Botany and Environmental Sciences in Folha.
“You have put together a global database that covers all countries and areas of the industry. This enabled us to get reliable data on the subject, ”says Milo, whose mother was born in Brazil.
To arrive at the conclusion (which has a margin of error of more or less six years), Milo and his colleagues had to make a number of methodological delineations. On the one hand, they indicate the sum of all living biomass, i.e. the totality of what is produced by living things, including trees and other plants, animals, macroscopic fungi and all microorganisms in the soil and in the water. The calculation also includes the weight of all people living today and that of their domesticated animals and plants.
On the other hand, the anthropogenic mass consists of inanimate substances that have been modified directly by the action of Homo sapiens: metal, concrete, brick, asphalt, plastic, glass, etc. (see infographic below). The researchers chose the dry weight (excluding water) for both sets.
In the anthropogenic mass, only objects that have not yet become garbage were taken into account. If they had been included, human production would have turned the tables for biomass as early as 2013 (error rate of five years or more). Minus), the group calculates. Nor did they add up the sum of materials that were only displaced by human action but not yet directly used for anything (such as the earth that was removed for the construction of a reservoir).
If the current rate of growth is maintained, it is expected that the anthropogenic mass will reach 3 teratons in 2040, that is, triple the terrestrial biomass. However, the case-by-case comparisons are scary enough. For example, the current mass of plastic is already twice that of all animals on the planet, while the weight of buildings and infrastructure (roads, etc.) exceeds that of all trees and shrubs. The mass of the Eiffel Tower, a Paris postcard, corresponds to that of all 10,000 living white rhinos in the world, while New York is connected to that of all fish in the oceans and rivers of the world.
The size and clarity of the data could support the official definition of what is known as the Anthropocene – the idea that human activity ushered in a new geological phase in the planet’s history. The concept is currently being discussed by the International Stratigraphy Commission.
“We are not part of the official discussion, but we are in contact with the people involved. I think it is only a matter of time before the Anthropocene becomes official, ”says the Israeli scientist.