Human-made materials could now outweigh all life on Earth
For the first time in history, human-made materials now likely outweigh all life on Earth.
Why it matters: If true, it would mean the world had reached a crossover point where humankind's total footprint is heavier than the combined mass of natural life — and there's little indication that trend will change anytime soon.
Driving the news: In a paper published on Wednesday in Nature, researchers calculated the weight of roads, buildings and just about everything else humans manufacture currently to be about 1.1 trillion tons.
- Living biomass like plants and animals comes in at approximately 1 trillion tons.
- And while the weight of human-made materials is doubling every 20 years, the weight of living biomass has halved since the dawn of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago.
- The researchers calculated human-made materials were just 3% of the weight of living biomass at the start of the 20th century.
What they're saying: "Some people think that humanity is just one species out of many, and that we’re tiny and the world is huge," Ron Milo, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science and a lead author on the paper, told TIME.
- "But our impact is not tiny."
Be smart: The paper's results provide one more piece of evidence that the planet has entered what scientists call the Anthropocene.
- That means human beings, more than any other species or natural process, are by far the dominant power on the planet.
The bottom line: As Spiderman's Uncle Ben could tell you, with great power comes great responsibility. It's up to humanity to use that power more wisely than we have in the past — if we want a future at all.