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Man-made mass now outweighs all living biomass on Earth: study

11th December, 2020 Science and Technology

Context: For the first time in history man-made materials now likely outweigh all life on Earth, scientists said Wednesday in research detailing the “crossover point” at which humanity's footprint is heavier than that of the natural world.

  • The weight of roads, buildings and other constructed or manufactured materials is doubling roughly every 20 years, and authors of the research said it currently weighed 1.1 teratonnes (1.1 trillion tonnes).
  • As mankind has ramped up its insatiable consumption of natural resources, the weight of living biomass — trees, plants and animals — has halved since the agricultural revolution to stand at just 1 teratonne currently, the study found.
  • Estimating changes in global biomass and man-made mass since 1990, the research showed that the mass of human-produced objects stood at just three percent of the weight of biomass at the start of the 20th century.
  • Anthropogenic mass is the mass embedded in inanimate solid objects made by humans.
  • But since the post-World War II global production boom, manufacturing has surged to the extent that humans now produce the equivalent of the weight of every person on Earth every week on average.
  • 2020 likely marked the moment when man-made mass tipped higher than biomass, according to the study published in Nature.
  • At the current growth rate, man-made material is likely to weigh as much as three teratonnes by 2040.
  • At the same time, overall biomass is decreasing, mainly because of deforestation and land use changes making way for intensive agriculture.
  • Buildings and roads account for most of the man-made mass, and a number of construction trends -- including shifting from bricks to concrete in construction in the mid-1950s — contributed to the accelerated weight accumulation.