Anthropocene

Here’s a terrifying fact culled from Scientific American this week: human-made stuff now outweighs all the Earth’s biomass. This is a new and significant milestone in humanity’s dominance of the planet.

Houses, motorways, shopping malls, ships, books, coffee mugs, smartphones and all the infrastructure of our daily lives now weigh in at approximately 1.1 trillion metric tons; this equals the combined weight of all plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, archaea and protists on the planet.

The indestructible plastics we have made now weigh twice as much as all the planet’s marine and terrestrial animals.

The indestructible plastics we have made now weigh twice as much as all the planet’s marine and terrestrial animals. Buildings, bridges and infrastructure outweigh all our trees and shrubs. We can no longer pretend that we are just another inoffensive primate species among many: we have precipitated the Anthropocene.

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science found that human-made mass has doubled every 20 years since 1900. Total biomass has remained more stable during that time, but plant biomass has declined by approximately half since the development of agriculture approximately 12,000 years ago. The crossover, the point at which anthropogenic mass finally outweighed the planet’s biomass, happened sometime this year.

Buildings, bridges and infrastructure outweigh all our trees and shrubs.

We are manufacturing stuff and building infrastructure at such a rate that if we don’t make changes soon, the mass of the things we make will grow to three times the world’s biomass by 2040. And then, of course, all of it will eventually become waste. . .

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