Published On: Tue, Dec 6th, 2016

30 trillion tons: Weight of all man-made objects on Earth

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We finally know the weight of humanities footprint on planet Earth a mind boggling 30 trillion tons. The mass of all the structures, vehicles, infrastructure, garbage dumps, everything — collectively known as the “technosphere” — comes down to roughly 30 trillion tons, a new study estimates.

Distributed evenly over the planet’s surface, the technosphere would translate into about 110 pounds (50 kilograms) for every 11 square feet (1 square meter), the researchers said. “It is all of the structures that humans have constructed to keep them alive, in very large numbers now, on the planet: houses, factories, farms, mines, roads, airports and shipping ports, computer systems, together with its discarded waste,” study co-author Jan Zalasiewicz, a professor of palaeobiology at the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom, said in a statement. “The technosphere is a system, with its own dynamics and energy flows – and humans have to help keep it going to survive,” Zalasiewicz said.

The research, conducted by an international team led by the University of Leicester’s department of Geology in England, suggests that the sum of ‘technofossils’ on the planet is more than the total amount of living matter on Earth.

Right now, the study concludes, the technosphere outweighs humans 3 to 1. Considering that the “present human biomass is more than double” that of all large terrestrial vertebrates before us and that the primary source for technospheric growth comes from the transformation of the biosphere and other natural resources, the sustainability of further growth under a business as usual model comes into question.

 Unlike Earth’s biosphere — the parts of the planet that sustain life — the technosphere does a poor job of recycling the materials that make it up. Instead of breaking down and refueling growth, elements of the technosphere simply take up more space in landfills.

“The technosphere may be geologically young, but it is evolving with furious speed, and it has already left a deep imprint on our planet,” Zalasiewicz added.

The findings were published online Nov. 30, in the journal The Anthropocene Review.

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