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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.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
13 mins ago - Economy & Business

First glimpse of the Biden market

Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

Investors made clear what companies they think will be winners and which will be losers in President Joe Biden's economy on Wednesday, selling out of gun makers, pot purveyors, private prison operators and payday lenders, and buying up gambling, gaming, beer stocks and Big Tech.

What happened: Private prison operator CoreCivic and private prison REIT Geo fell by 7.8% and 4.1%, respectively, while marijuana ETF MJ dropped 2% and payday lenders World Acceptance and EZCorp each fell by more than 1%.

Mike Allen, author of AM
44 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden-Harris, Day 1: What mattered most

President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden arrive at the North Portico of the White House. Photo: Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images

The Axios experts help you sort significance from symbolism. Here are the six Day 1 actions by President Biden that matter most.

Driving the news: Today, on his first full day, Biden translates his promise of a stronger federal response to the pandemic into action — starting with 10 executive orders and other directives, Caitlin Owens writes.