Humanity has become a dominant force in shaping the face of Earth1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9. An emerging question is how the overall material output of human activities compares to the overall natural biomass. Here we quantify the human-made mass, referred to as ‘anthropogenic mass’, and compare it to the overall living biomass on Earth, which currently equals approximately 1.1 teratonnes10,11. We find that Earth is exactly at the crossover point; in the year 2020 (± 6), the anthropogenic mass, which has recently doubled roughly every 20 years, will surpass all global living biomass. On average, for each person on the globe, anthropogenic mass equal to more than his or her bodyweight is produced every week. This quantification of the human enterprise gives a mass-based quantitative and symbolic characterization of the human-induced epoch of the Anthropocene.
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All data used in this study are available on GitHub, at https://github.com/milo-lab/anthropogenic_mass. Anthropogenic mass data are available from ref. 22 and at https://boku.ac.at/wiso/sec/data-download. TRENDY Dynamic Global Vegetation Models outputs are available at https://sites.exeter.ac.uk/trendy. Leaves dry matter content measurements were obtained via TryDB, at https://www.try-db.org/. Other datasets used in this study are available from the published literature, as detailed in the Methods and Supplementary Information.
All code used in this study is available on GitHub, at https://github.com/milo-lab/anthropogenic_mass.
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We thank U. Alon, S. Dan, G. Eshel, T. Fishman, E. Gelbrieth, T. Kaufmann, T. Klein, A. Knoll, E. Noor, N. Page, R. Phillips, J. Pongratz, M. Shamir, M. Shtein, B. Smith, C. Waters, T. Wiesel, M. Williams and members of our laboratory for help and discussions, and S. Sitch and the TRENDY DGVM community for access to their simulation outputs. This research was supported by the European Research Council (Project NOVCARBFIX 646827); Beck-Canadian Center for Alternative Energy Research; Dana and Yossie Hollander; Ullmann Family Foundation; Helmsley Charitable Foundation; Larson Charitable Foundation; Wolfson Family Charitable Trust; Charles Rothschild; and Selmo Nussenbaum. R.M. is the Charles and Louise Gartner professional chair. Y.M.B.-O is an Azrieli Fellow.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature thanks Fridolin Krausmann, Dominik Wiedenhofer and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Extended data figures and tables
a–f, The effect of adding the following to the anthropogenic mass (dark purple): a, mass of the human population, b, mass of livestock, c, mass of crops and agroforestry, d, mass of earthworks, dredging and waste/overburden from mineral and metal production, and f, mass of anthropogenic atmospheric CO2 stocks, as well as e, the exclusion of the mass of industrial roundwood. The total biomass weight is depicted by the green line. Black dot indicates the year of intersection based on the alternative anthropogenic mass definition. Violet area and light green-dashed line indicate extrapolated anthropogenic mass and biomass estimates, respectively. Full description of the sensitivity analysis is provided in Supplementary Information section 1.
Extended Data Fig. 2 Anthropogenic mass composition since the year 1900, divided into material groups.
Dataset is based on ref. 22.
Extended Data Fig. 3 Anthropogenic mass relative annual change, with highlights of notable global events.
Relative annual change is calculated as the difference between two consecutive years divided by the earlier year anthropogenic mass value.
As further detailed in the Methods section ‘Biomass change over the years 1900–2017’.
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Elhacham, E., Ben-Uri, L., Grozovski, J. et al. Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass. Nature 588, 442–444 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-3010-5