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Humans’ stuff vastly outweighs humans

Human-made things are 60,000 times as heavy as humans themselves

By
1:00pm, January 24, 2017
pile of junk

TONS OF STUFF  The combined mass of all human-created products has eclipsed the mass of nature-made products, including humans, researchers estimate.

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Have you ever felt weighed down by your material possessions? The boundless variety of stuff that humans manufacture — tractors, buildings, ballpoint pens, Hello Kitty backpacks — has serious heft: 30 trillion metric tons, a new study estimates. That’s about 50 kilograms for every square meter of Earth’s surface.

The human-made “technosphere,” all the manufactured goods around today, surpasses the natural biosphere in mass and variety, geologist Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester in England and colleagues report online November 28 in The Anthropocene Review. Books alone, at about 130 million titles, surpass the estimated 8.7 million eukaryotic species on Earth. The technosphere is one measure of how humankind is reshaping the planet (SN: 10/15/16, p. 14), the researchers note.

506

million metric tons

Approximate combined mass of all living humans

30,000,000

million metric tons

Estimated mass of the technosphere

Source: J. Zalasiewicz et al/The Anthropocene Review 2016

Citations

J. Zalasiewicz et al. Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: a geological perspective. The Anthropocene Review. Published online November 28, 2016. doi: 10.1177/2053019616677743.

Further Reading

T. Sumner. Nuclear blasts, other human activity signal new epoch, group argues. Science News. Vol. 190, October 15, 2016, p. 14.

C. Samoray. Ocean's plastics offer a floating fortress to a mess of microbes. Science News. Vol. 189, February 20, 2016, p. 20.

J. Rosen. Trash researcher tallies ocean pollution. Science News. Vol. 187, January 24, 2015, p. 4.

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