Anthropomass vs. Biomass

Human-made mass has reached a critical tipping point

Anthropomass (anthropogenic mass) or simply human-made mass is the mass embedded in visible inanimate solid objects/components made by humans (that have not yet been demolished or taken out of service). These objects originate from material flows from the natural environment to the socioeconomic system, accumulated into stocks of artefacts, also known as manufactured capital or physical technosphere.,1 2 3 Examples of these human-made materials include; concrete, aggregates, bricks, asphalt, metals and other components (glass and plastic).

Biomass on the other hand is the weight or total quantity (as a species or community) of living organisms (plant, animal, fungi, bacteria, archaea, protists, and viruses) on the planet. 4 5 Plants are vital because they primarily provide the essential conditions for life through photosynthesis. This includes oxygen production, carbon sequestration, pollution removal, freshwater cycle management, and the regulation of microclimates and temperatures.

Based on estimations 86% of total biomass on earth can be found in terrestrial environments, 13% in the deep subsurface, and 1% in the marine environments.6

In 2020, the tipping point was observed where the total anthropomass on Earth was estimated to be approximately 1,154 Gt (all inanimate objects humans have created since 1990-2020) with buildings and infrastructure alone taking 1,100 Gt share. The total earth’s biomass was estimated to be around 1,120 Gt with human beings (the creators of the anthropomass) making up only ~0.01% of all the biomass. Trees and shrubs were 900 Gt and animals 4 Gt, out of the whole available biomass on the planet. In general, the total anthropomass on Earth surpasses the available biomass, disrupting the balance of the living systems that regulate the Earth.

Currently, the total accumulation rate of anthropomass is ~30 Gt per year and this rate is predicted to be almost 3x the total amount of living biomass by 2040.

Due to the ongoing transformation of natural ecosystems into non-living matter through human intervention, we are accumulating a global ecological debt. This debt is not only a financial liability but is also steering us towards an unsustainable future for the planet unless we take urgent measures to reverse this trend.

Related Articles

Krausmann et al. (2018). From resources extraction to outflows of wastes and emissions: the socioeconomic metabolism of the global economy, 1900–2015

2 Haff (2014). Technology as a geological phenomenon: implications for human well-being.

3 Zalasiewicz et al. (2017). Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: a geological perspective.

4 Britannica (2023). biomass

5 Anthropomass (n.d). Anthropogenic mass – Comparing human-made mass to the overall living Biomass on Earth.

6 Bar-On et al. (2018). The biomass distribution on Earth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…

7 Elhacham et al. (2020). Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass.

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