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Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth

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Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth

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The world is not getting any bigger but the human population continues to grow, consuming more and more resources and altering the very environment we rely on.

In 2020, the amount of human-made mass, or anthropogenic mass, exceeded for the first time the dry weight (except for water and fluids) of all life on Earth, including humans, animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms.

In this infographic based on a study published in Nature, we break down the composition of all human-made materials and the rate of their production.

A Man-made Planet

Anthropogenic mass is defined as the mass embedded in inanimate solid objects made by humans that have not been demolished or taken out of service—which is separately defined as anthropogenic mass waste.

Over the past century or so, human-made mass has increased rapidly, doubling approximately every 20 years. The collective mass of these materials has gone from 3% of the world’s biomass in 1900 to being on par with it today.

While we often overlook the presence of raw materials, they are what make the modern economy possible. To build roads, houses, buildings, printer paper, coffee mugs, computers, and all other human-made things, it requires billions of tons of fossil fuels, metals and minerals, wood, and agricultural products.

Human-Made Mass

Every year, we extract almost 90 billion tons of raw materials from the Earth. A single smartphone, for example, can carry roughly 80% of the stable elements on the periodic table.

The rate of accumulation for anthropogenic mass has now reached 30 gigatons (Gt)—equivalent to 30 billion metric tons—per year, based on the average for the past five years. This corresponds to each person on the globe producing more than his or her body weight in anthropogenic mass every week.

At the top of the list is concrete. Used for building and infrastructure, concrete is the second most used substance in the world, after water.

Human-Made MassDescription1900 (mass/Gt)1940 (mass/Gt)1980 (mass/Gt)2020 (mass/Gt)
ConcreteUsed for building and infrastructure, including cement, gravel and sand21086549
AggregatesGravel and sand, mainly used as bedding for roads and buildings1730135386
BricksMostly composed of clay and used for constructions11162892
AsphaltBitumen, gravel and sand, used mainly for road construction/pavement 012265
MetalsMostly iron/steel, aluminum and copper131339
OtherSolid wood products, paper/paperboard, container and flat glass and plastic461123

Bricks and aggregates like gravel and sand also represent a big part of human-made mass.

Although small compared to other materials in our list, the mass of plastic we’ve made is greater than the overall mass of all terrestrial and marine animals combined.

Human-Made Mass Plastic

As the rate of growth of human-made mass continues to accelerate, it could become triple the total amount of global living biomass by 2040.

Can We Work It Out?

While the mass of humans is only about 0.01% of all biomass, our impact is like no other form of life on Earth. We are one of the few species that can alter the environment to the point of affecting all life.

At the current pace, the reserves of some materials like fossil fuels and minerals could run out in less than 100 years. As a result, prospectors are widening their search as they seek fresh sources of raw materials, exploring places like the Arctic, the deep sea, and even asteroids.

As the world population continues to increase, so does the pressure on the natural environment. It is an unavoidable fact that consumption will increase, but in an era of net-zero policies and carbon credits, accounting for the human impact on the environment will be more important than ever.

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40 Years of U.S. Wildfires, in One Chart

Wildfires are blazing across the U.S with unprecedented intensity. Here is how activity has evolved over four decades.

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The following content is sponsored by Carbon Streaming

Note: This infographic contains forward looking information based on current expectations and beliefs of Carbon Streaming Corporation. For further information about the risks, uncertainties and assumptions related to such forward looking information, please see their legal notice.

40 Years of U.S. Wildfires, in One Chart

Wildfires are becoming more intense and widespread—largely due to rising temperatures caused by climate change. 

What’s more, experts predict a whopping 50% surge in wildfires by 2100.

We partnered with Carbon Streaming to illustrate four decades (1983–2023) of wildfire activity in the U.S. Let’s dive in.

The Evolution of Wildfires Over Time

The data we used comes from the National Interagency Fire Center and highlights the number of wildfires that occurred between 1983 and 2023, along with the average acres burned over the same time period. The 5-year rolling average was calculated based on the current year plus the preceding four years.

As the table below shows, the total area burned across the U.S. in 2023 was significantly below average, and the number of wildfires was slightly below average due in part to cooler weather conditions.

YearNumber of WildfiresAcres Burned 5-Year Rolling Average
202356,5802,693,9106,436,687
202268,9887,577,1837,651,404
202158,9857,125,6438,141,184
202058,95010,122,3367,818,055
201950,4774,664,3647,818,617
201858,0838,767,4927,604,867
201771,49910,026,0866,715,278
201667,7435,509,9956,575,308
201568,15110,125,1497,215,583
201463,3123,595,6135,875,098
201347,5794,319,5466,340,332
201267,7749,326,2386,534,917
201174,1268,711,3676,535,278
201071,9713,422,7246,767,754
200978,7925,921,7867,821,087
200878,9795,292,4688,256,305
200785,7059,328,0457,989,980
200696,3859,873,7457,561,314
200566,7538,689,3896,300,747
200465,4618,097,880*6,041,568
200363,6293,960,8425,547,210
200273,4577,184,7125,020,983
200184,0793,570,9114,155,432
200092,2507,393,4934,654,449
199992,4875,626,0933,543,860
199881,0431,329,7043,233,357
199766,1962,856,9593,326,931
199696,3636,065,9983,169,525
199582,2341,840,5462,547,041
199479,1074,073,5793,103,256
199358,8101,797,5742,654,002
199287,3942,069,9293,296,346
199175,7542,953,5783,371,819
199066,4814,621,6213,324,936
198948,9491,827,3102,979,841
198872,7505,009,2902,844,061
198771,3002,447,2962,106,936
198685,9072,719,162N/A
198582,5912,896,147N/A
198420,4931,148,409N/A
198318,2291,323,666N/A

*2004 fires and acres do not include state lands for North Carolina

What’s the impact of the increasing burned areas and severity of wildfires over time? 

Simply put, when wildfires burn, they release smoke and gas into the air which makes the Earth warmer, making it easier for more wildfires to start and spread. This cycle is often referred to as the fires and climate feedback loop, and is the reason why experts believe that wildfires will only continue to worsen.

Wildfire Havoc in the West

2023 marked a year of severe wildfire destruction on the West Coast and in Hawaii. The Maui wildfires in August, for example, led to the destruction of 2,308 structures and at time of writing, 5,000 residents are still displaced six months later. Additionally, the cost of rebuilding Maui could exceed $5 billion and take several years.

Post-wildfire restoration is a critical piece of climate change mitigation, particularly in the states that need it the most. 

What Can Be Done?

In partnership with Mast Reforestation, Carbon Streaming is advancing its pipeline of post-wildfire reforestation projects in Western U.S. states. 

To date, Carbon Streaming has entered into carbon credit streams to provide funding for three reforestation projects—Sheep Creek in Montana and Feather River and Baccala Ranch in California.

Mast Reforestation’s unique approach combines proven reforestation practices with new technology to regrow resilient, climate-adapted forests. Want to know more?

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