The sum of all things made by humans already outweighs all living beings on the planet together and it does not seem that the trend is going to be less

For a century, the mass of everything man-made has doubled every 20 years. Said like this, it is a somewhat abstract data, but seen with perspective it gives a bit of vertigo. According to the data just published by Ron Milo’s team, in 1900 the mass of man-made objects was equivalent to about 3% of the total biomass on the planet. Today the “anthropomass” already exceeds the total global biomass and weighs around 1.1 teratons (1,100,000,000,000 tons) compared to the tethon of natural things.

Although we have obviously cheated (since the first agricultural revolution, we have managed to reduce plant biomass by half), the truth is that according to Milo’s calculations this happened almost everything before 1900: in the last 100 years, total biomass decreased slightly, while anthropogenic mass has increased rapidly and is now produced at a rate of more than 30 gigatons per year.

That is to say, every week we produce more mass than the total mass of all humanity put together. What, in technical terms, we could define as a mess.

Humanity and its (terribly heavy) things

The sum of all things made by humans already outweighs all living beings on the planet together and it does not seem that the trend is going to be less

We are not talking about garbage, as we might think: we are talking about concrete, asphalt and aggregates (sand and gravel), bricks, metals and others (plastics, glass, etc.). If we count, buildings and roads make up most of what we have. Behind, but growing rapidly, are machines and plastics (which already fold, by themselves, that of all animals, land and sea). In fact, it is curious that we can observe how the composition of the world has changed in response to constructive trends. In the 50s of the 20th century, the use of bricks began to decline compared to concrete and, in the 60s, asphalt began to explode worldwide.

Milo acknowledges in Nature that establishing the exact moment when anthropomass exceeded biomass is difficult to determine because the work is built on a huge number of works and the margins of error do not allow us to fine-tune it as much. What appears clearer is that, if current trends continue, man-made mass will exceed three teratons by 2040.

Picture | Denys Nevozhai