Since the irreversible outbreak of technology and industrialization, the impact of humans on the environment accelerated at an exponential rate. It was only a matter of time till the man-made mass reached the milestone of surpassing all-natural life on earth. The time for the “crossover” has come and the sooner we take matters more seriously than ever, the better.
A recent study in Nature quantified the weight of all man-made things, or “anthropogenic mass” as they call it, aiming to capture a “big picture” of what is going on. Humanity’s footprint of everything humans have ever created – from plastic bottles to monstrous skyscrapers – currently stands at 1.1 trillion metric tons and this value doubles every 20 years. If the current pattern continues, man-made materials will weigh nearly as much as 3 trillion metric tons by 2040.
This ongoing transition is one that “happens not just once in a lifetime, but once in an era” according to Ron Milo, researcher at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science and senior author of the study.
The overwhelming accumulation of man-made materials began almost immediately after the II World War. By the beginning of the 20th century, human stuff only weighed around 35 billion tons or approximately 3 percent of the world’s mass. Since the post-II World War manufacturing boom, it has never been the same.
Buildings and roads are responsible for the majority of the weight accumulation. The shift from bricks to concrete, which has now become man’s favorite building material, and the declination of nature, mainly due to deforestation and the agricultural revolution, has had a significant share in this pernicious milestone that humans have reached unconsciously.
The authors of the study stated that now that we have the “somewhat shocking” numbers at our hands, human’s central role in the world can no longer be denied. “We are already a major player and with that comes a shared responsibility,” said Emily Elacham, the lead author of the study.