Human-made materials now outweigh Earth's entire biomass – study

Human made materials now outweigh Earth’s entire biomass

As 2020 draws to a close it is a good time to reflect on where we are and where we need to be heading. This article and the associated paper highlight in stark terms the outsized impact that humankind is having on the planet, and the rapidly diminishing capability for natural systems to keep up. The production of materials at this scale is not just increasing global temperatures, but also degrading the environment, polluting waterways, and devastating biodiversity.

For me, the focus for 2021 has to be on reducing our overall consumption - the pandemic shutdowns of 2020 demonstrated to the world that we can slow or even stop the economy and the consequences are manageable, well actually preferable in my opinion. The answers to this crisis are systemic, requiring cultural, political, and technological advances; but most important of all they are achievable.

The outlook for 2021 is not all doom and gloom - we are seeing the shift to renewable accelerate as more countries commit to climate targets (the USA will rejoin the Paris accord), the financial markets are increasingly walking away from the risks of fossil fuels, and it seems that peak oil has passed. There have been exciting developments in life systems chemistry that hold promise for more sustainable materials and carbon sequestration - I’m especially excited by the prospect of spider silk adhesives.

To be sure there is a lot of work to be done, but I’m heartened by this community. I’m keen to hear your thoughts on what changes you’re excited for in 2021.

1 Like

Thanks for sharing. Spider silk sounds very interesting.

Other good news on the materials front. It seems developed economies are near or post-peak on many material consumption. A 2015 study of 100 commodities in US from 1900 to 2010, showed 36 have peaked in absolute terms and another 53 have peaked relative to economy size.

The Return of Nature: How Technology Liberates the Environment
Jesse H. Ausubel

1 Like