The Download: Only 3 percent of living biomass in 1900, man-made materials such as steel, plastic, and concrete now outweigh animals, plants, and microorganisms, according to a new study by Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. The total mass has grown from less than 0.1 teratonnes to 1 teratonne (1 trillion tonnes) as the scale of roads, buildings, structures, and other objects has increased beginning in the 1950s postwar construction boom, known as the “Great Acceleration,” and doubling every 20 years ever since. The amount of new stuff being produced every week is equivalent to the average body weight of all 7.7 billion people.
Why It Matters: Since the first agricultural revolution, plant biomass has been halved by humans primarily due to deforestation while the amount of artificial objects has grown. It offers more evidence that we’ve entered the Anthropocene, a new geological age where humanity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Plastics now weigh twice as much as earth’s animal life, and buildings and roads outweigh trees and shrubs.
In Their Own Words: “In the next 20 years, we’ll get as much waste as from the last 110 years together,” says Fridolin Krausmann of the Institute of Social Ecology at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna. “Most of what we have now has been built in the last couple of decades, since the 1960s. Now this is becoming end-of-life, so we are really facing huge, huge waste flows.”
Surface Says: We’ll leave it to everyone’s favorite naturalist, David Attenborough, who summed up the peril humanity faces if it doesn’t reverse environmental destruction in his latest documentary, A Life On Our Planet. “However grave our mistakes, nature will ultimately overcome them. The living world will endure; we humans cannot presume the same.”