A Planet Subjected To Engineering: There Are Already More Constructions
Environment

A planet subjected to engineering: there are already more constructions than living beings

A study indicates that while nature does not stop diminishing, in Spain and in the rest of the world, the push of humans does not stop growing.

Man-made materials already weigh as much as biomass as a whole.

Our limitations have always determined our lives. Also those of our most remote ancestors, in the last ice age. Since we had neither the strength nor the speed to hunt large game, nor the sharp teeth or claws to tear flesh, we made javelins, flint knives and scrapers. We didn’t have thick skins either, but we took those of other animals. As the ice receded, we became better equipped to increase our survival and comfort, such as stone houses, plows and wheeled vehicles. All these advances allowed the existence of small oases of civilizationin the middle of a wild nature that seemed endless.

The idea that the greatness of the natural world dwarfs humanity and its advances has always been very persistent. In fact, it reaches our time, when it has been translated into concern about the fact that human action is causing phenomena such as climate change or the extinction of species. How could something like this have happened, if we are so small and nature so great?

A new study published in the journal Nature by a team of researchers at the Weizman Institute in Israel turns this view on its head. The set of the man-made (and it is something that is fulfilled precisely in this spooky year) already has the same mass as all living organisms on the planet. The thrust of man continues to increase, while that of nature continues to decline. The sci-fi scenario of an engineered planet is here.

It seems like a simple calculation, although in practice it is devilishly complex. But this team is experienced in taking on impossible challenges. A couple of years ago they trained by completing the first part of the calculation, the mass of all living organisms on the planet, including that of sea ​​fish, The one of the subsoil microbes, The one of the earth trees, The one of the sky birds and much more. Right now the biosphere of our planet has a weight of just under 1.2 billion tons (We speak of dry mass, not counting the water), and of it, what weighs the most are the trees. In fact, before the human being began the deforestation of the planet, the weight of the trees was approximately double (and at this moment it continues to reduce).

Two big tree trunks in a forest

heavy weightsAndreas C. Fischer / shutterstock

On this occasion, the researchers have dug into the statistics of industrial production and mass flows of all kinds to determine the growth since the beginning of the 20th century of what they call “anthropogenic mass”.

This is made up of all the things we build (houses, cars, roads, planes and a huge variety of other objects). And here the pattern they determined was remarkably different. The things we build reached a total mass of around 35,000 million tons in the year 1900, and that mass was practically doubled in the mid-20th century.

Subsequently, the wave of prosperity that occurred after the Second World War, the so-called “Great Acceleration”, caused that amount to multiply several times until reaching the half a billion tons by the end of the century.

In the last 20 years, this amount has doubled again, which has made this year the volume of mass is equivalent to that of living organisms. And in the next few years this will be widely exceeded (by 2040 it will triple) if current trends continue.

A concrete highway bridge seen from below.

Concrete accounts for most of the weight.Lijphoto / shutterstock

But what exactly do we build? We are talking about an extraordinary and growing variety of objects. The number of “technospecies” at this time far exceeds the number of biological species, which is estimated at nine million. Their exact number, in fact, exceeds the extraordinary calculation capabilities of this scientific team. But all these objects can be decomposed into the materials that form them, and from them concrete and conglomerates they get the lion’s share (about four-fifths). Then would come the bricks, the asphalt and the metals. On this scale, the plastics they would be a minority component (and yet their combined mass is currently greater than that of the sum of all the animals on the planet).

It is a revealing study, very meticulous and incredibly clear regarding the measures that it includes and excludes. does not include, for example, the rocks and earth masses displaced with machinery to construct buildings, nor all the rocky debris generated in the mining activity. It is estimated that both activities annually generate around 33,000 million tons of these materials. Add to that the masses of land we create, sometimes unjustifiably, by plowing farmland or allowing such materials to settle in dams. Furthermore, we humans have long used and then discarded 30 trillion tons of the planet’s various resources.

It does not matter how the data is interpreted, since the final thesis supported by the researchers of this revolutionary study hits the nail on the head and is in accordance with other recent analyzes that we have also taken into account. Since the mid-20th century, the Earth has entered a new era determined by human activity; an era in which the stable conditions of the Holocene no longer apply, but rather one that is fraught with uncertainties and in which conditions change rapidly: the Anthropocene. In this sense, the weight of scientific evidence seems indisputable.The Conversation

*Jan Zalasiewicz, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Leicester y Mark Williams, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Leicester.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.