General, Research, Technology

Another "point of no return": the mass of everything created by man exceeds the biomass of the Earth

2020, perhaps, has beaten all imaginable andunthinkable records. The number of predictions according to which human civilization may cease to exist in the coming decades is simply off scale. Today, perhaps the lazy has not heard anything about climate change and the coming garbage apocalypse. Now scientists are talking about the total biomass of the planet (the mass of all living things on Earth), comparing it with anthropogenic mass, which includes all materials created by man. New research shows that every year people bring more materials to the world, such as concrete, which is the largest source of anthropogenic mass and the main source of greenhouse gas emissions. And if in 1900 the anthropogenic mass was only 3% of the total biomass, then in 2020 the number of objects made by man will significantly exceed the total biomass of the planet. Currently, humans produce about 30 gigatons (30,000,000,000 tons) of material per year, and the production rate is increasing relentlessly.

The number of objects created by man for the first time exceeded the number of living organisms on Earth.

What is the point of no return?

"Point of no return" or tipping pointpoint) is a critical point in a developing situation that leads to irreversible consequences. The term is believed to have originated in the field of epidemiology and describes a situation in which the spread of an infectious disease reaches a point beyond which the outbreak can no longer be stopped.

Today, the term point of no return is used inmany areas. Thus, journalists apply it to social phenomena, demographic data, and virtually any change that can lead to irreversible consequences. The tipping point has been on the front pages of the news in recent years due to the challenges posed by rapid climate change.

This is interesting: What will the world be like in 2050 if climate change is not stopped?

Now, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Climate change on December 9, humanity has reached another tipping point: in 2020 anthropogenic mass will exceed the total biomass of the planet, that is, the total mass of all living things on planet Earth. Every year the production of materials continues to grow at an accelerated pace.

Every day, billions of people are producing new materials and disposing of old ones.

According to the results obtained, the weight of allman-made - products, infrastructure, buildings - created every week is roughly equivalent to the body weight of all people on Earth. In 1900, for example, the anthropogenic mass was only 3% of the biomass. but this ratio has at least doubled every 20 years since then, gaining momentum in recent decades as more and more geological materials such as metals, minerals and rocks are used in industry.

For measuring anthropogenic mass and biomassthe researchers combined previous estimates from computer simulations and available macroeconomic research data. Note that it is incredibly difficult to determine the exact numbers. Imagine trying to weigh all the cars, trees, whales, butterflies and bacteria all over the planet, and water and waste are making things much more difficult.

Read more fascinating articles about the impact of humans on the ecosystems of the Earth on our channel in Yandex.Zen. There are regularly published articles that are not on the site.

For this reason, the researchers did not include wastein anthropogenic mass estimates, and did not include water in biomass estimates. Excluding waste and water, anthropogenic mass is likely not to exceed biomass for another two decades. These rough estimates highlight the grave impact of humanity on the planet. It is so great that some scientists believe that we have entered a new era called the Anthropocene.


According to UNESCO, the term Anthropocene (Anthromeans "man", cene - "new") denotes an era during which the main cause of environmental changes is man. Proponents of the concept note that human activities have caused serious damage to the planet, including the sixth mass extinction, pollution of the oceans and the atmosphere, as well as large-scale changes in the planet's topography caused by agriculture, housing construction and industry. Today they cover 70% of the land.

Biomass plot of the planet. Source: Big Think

Some researchers insist that the Holocene should be distinguished from our present era - the Anthropocene, but the geological community did not accept the idea of ​​the Anthropocene.

Dividing large time periods into eras allows scientists to understand what changes have occurred on the planet over a long period of time. So, Holocene epoch started around the time the planetwarmed up, the glaciers melted, and the agricultural revolution thundered in the world. From a scientific point of view, the Holocene is the modern geological era of the Quaternary period, which began about 12 thousand years ago and continues to this day.

On the brink of disaster

To calculate anthropogenic mass, researcherstook the production of specific materials, such as concrete, brick, asphalt, metals and "other" components such as wood used for paper and industry, glass and plastic. The results showed that Since 1900, the production of these materials on Earth has doubled every 20 years.

Today, thanks to numerous studieswe know about the negative impact of anthropogenic activities on the planet's climate. The new work, in turn, showed that the mass production of products and materials is currently over 30 gigatons per year. In other words, the mass of man-made material produced each week now outweighs the weight of all 7.8 billion people on the planet.

According to some researchers, the world is on the verge of an ecological disaster.

See also: Why are there so many people in the world?

The researchers note that if humanitycontinues to move along this trajectory, then by 2040 we will probably exceed the dry biomass on Earth by three times. And if you look at the data differently, then we may have passed the point of no return a few years ago. If, however, the calculation also includes waste - the mass not taken into account in the last study, it turns out that human waste products surpassed “dry” living biomass back in 2013.

It is important to note that the margin of error for suchmonumental masses are relatively large - about plus or minus 16% for biomass and plus or minus 6% for anthropogenic mass. But in general, as the authors of the scientific work write, if we have not yet surpassed living biomass, then we will definitely surpass it in the next two decades.