Our Stuff Weighs More Than All Living Things on the Planet

Bill McKibben in The New Yorker:

We are necessarily occupied here each week with strategies for getting ourselves out of the climate crisis—it is the world’s true Klaxon-sounding emergency. But it is worth occasionally remembering that global warming is just one measure of the human domination of our planet. We got another reminder of that unwise hegemony this week, from a study so remarkable that we should just pause and absorb it.

A team led by Emily Elhacham, at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel, performed a series of staggeringly difficult calculations and concluded that 2020 was the year in which the weight of “human-made mass”—all the stuff we’ve built and accumulated—exceeded the weight of biomass on the planet. That is to say, our built environment now weighs more than all the living things, including humans, on the globe. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure, for instance, weigh about eleven hundred gigatons, while every tree and shrub, set on a scale, would weigh about nine hundred gigatons. We have nine gigatons of plastic on the planet, compared with four gigatons of animals—every whale and elephant and bee added together. The weight of living things remains relatively static, year to year, but the weight of man-made objects is doubling every twenty years. This means that most of us likely have in our minds a very different and very wrong picture of the relative size of nature and civilization. In 1900, the weight of human-made mass was three per cent of the weight of the natural world; we were a small part of the big picture. No longer. We live on Planet Stuff.

More here.