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Plastic bags wrap around trees along the Sindh River in India. Photo: Idrees Abbas/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jul 7, 2020 - Science

The race to find Planet X heats up

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Teams of scientists are vying to be the first to spot a large, hypothetical planet that might be lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system.

Why it matters: Astronomers have found thousands of planets orbiting other stars, but the hunt for this possible planet orbiting our own Sun — called Planet X or Planet 9 by some — is showing just how little we know about our solar system.

Students vandalize and steal from schools for viral TikTok challenge

TikTok logo displayed on a phone screen in Krakow, Poland on July 18, 2021. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A viral TikTok challenge is leading students nationwide to shatter mirrors, steal fire alarms and intentionally clog toilets, The Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Dubbed the the “Devious Licks challenge, students are showing off their "devious licks" on TikTok — with a sped-up version of "Ski Ski BasedGod" by rapper Lil’ B playing in the background.

Axios-Ipsos poll: People of color face more environmental threats

Expand chart
Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note: ±2.5% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Americans of color are much less likely than white Americans to experience good air quality or tap water or enough trees or green space in their communities, and they're more likely to face noise pollution and litter, a new Axios-Ipsos poll finds.

The big picture: Our national survey shows Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely than their white counterparts to live near major highways or industrial or manufacturing plants — and to have dealt in the past year with water-boil notices or power outages lasting more than 24 hours.