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Key figure: 1,100 billion tonnes

That is the estimation of the weight of the buildings, transport infrastructures and other manufactured products reached in 2020. This “anthropic mass” is henceforth greater than the biomass of natural origin (plants, fauna, forests, wetlands, etc.).

New York.


The weight of the products made by humanity doubles every 20 years. According to a study  carried out by researchers of the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) and published in the journal Nature, the tipping point has been reached, since this mass now exceeds 0.1 tera-tonne, that of all life.


The collapse of the living mass


Due to the effects of globalisation, industrial progress and a model of growth that uses and destroys natural resources, the pressure of the human footprint on Earth has increased constantly whereas it represented only 3% of the total weight of biomass at the beginning of the 20th century. According to the authors of the study, the equivalent of 8 cities the size of New York emerge every year. The weight of living biomass has declined by half since the Neolithic period, 10 000 years ago. Intensive agriculture and deforestation have led to the loss of 100 million hectares of forest over the last 20 years.

The face of deforestation.

This snapshot of the state of the planet provided by the study is remarkable in that it characterises the Anthropocene era by quantifying its domination for the first time. Its reach is also symbolic and Ron Milo, a researcher at the plants and environmental sciences department of the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) hopes that

these quite shocking figureswill make us assume our responsibilities as a species”.


Faced by the limits of the material world


Unfortunately, the trend is not about to reverse according to the forecasts formulated by the researchers, despite the decisions that could be taken to better protect the environment. Human production, which weighs about 30 billion tonnes a year, could be multiplied by three and reach 3 tera-tonnes by 2040, if current production rhythms continue.

These figures encourage reconsidering the central role played by humans in the evolution of the natural world towards an artificial planet and their responsibility to future generations. COVID-19, which sprang from an environmental crisis, has brutally placed things in perspective: human beings can no longer ignore their fragility as members of a whole – life – nor the limits of the resources of the natural world.

Regarding this, the National Museum of Natural History wanted to issue a strong message with its manifesto “Facing the limits”, which invites contemporary societies to rethink their integration in ecosystems. Although development and knowledge sharing have allowed the human species to go beyond its natural limits, current lifestyles and development have come up against unavoidable ecological limits. This reality is all the more difficult to accept and change since the effects of anthropic actions on the climate are not necessarily immediate. According to the authors, through their desire to live the present, humans forget the lessons of the past and find it hard to project themselves into the future.


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