Estimating the mass of everything on Earth made by humans
As you dive into holiday shopping, it might help to consider just how much of humanity’s 30 trillion tons of stuff you want to be the owner of. A lot of that stuff isn’t really for sale, or even gift-wrappable, but it’s all part of the impact our species has made on the planet, for better or for worse. On a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to ignore some of this buildup and focus on the subset of things we want as individuals, but these new calculations aim to help us see that new tablet or toy from a new perspective, since on some level we share it all anyway.
The mountains of material shaped by humans isn’t just a single, 30-trillion-ton monolith of course. It’s spread out over time and space, including every building, tool, widget or piece of waste we’ve manufactured. In some cases, large collections of a single substance can be counted, such as the nearly trillion tons of carbon dioxide produced by human activity. Other objects are a bit more granular, such as the 130 million book titles published in human history, and all the various printed copies of each of those titles. From the perspective of an archaeologist or paleontologist, each of these items counts when considering humanity’s impact on the world around us.
In total: the technosphere
Altogether, this collection of intentional and unintentional products can be called the technosphere. That name isn’t just supposed to sound like jargon, but rather to evoke the relative gravity of all our junk. The calculated mass of the technosphere actually puts it on par with major components of our planet, like the hydrosphere, atmosphere or even biosphere (yes, our loot is easily as influential as life itself.)
It’s fair if that still feels too abstract to really deal with. To bring things a bit closer to home, it may help to look at your own living room, thinking about the messiest day you’ve seen. Now consider if your room, and every other inch of the 196.9 million square miles across the surface of the Earth was covered in a few inches of densely collected debris, with each square foot of space weighing in at 36 pounds of stuff. If wading through debris doesn’t capture your imagination, we can just divide up the technosphere to everyone that has ever contributed to it. By 2011, it’s thought that over 107 billion people had ever been born, giving every human ever our own 279 ton nugget of human creation. Apparently we’re all more prolific than we realize, for better or for worse.
Source: Our ‘Technosphere’: 30 Trillion Tons of Man-Made Stuff by Tracy Staedter, Seeker