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Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth

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Anthropomass

Visualizing the Accumulation of Human-Made Mass on Earth

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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Electrification

Visualizing the World’s Largest Copper Producers

Many new technologies critical to the energy transition rely on copper. Here are the world’s largest copper producers.

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Visualizing the World’s Largest Copper Producers

Man has relied on copper since prehistoric times. It is a major industrial metal with many applications due to its high ductility, malleability, and electrical conductivity.

Many new technologies critical to fighting climate change, like solar panels and wind turbines, rely on the red metal.

But where does the copper we use come from? Using the U.S. Geological Survey’s data, the above infographic lists the world’s largest copper producing countries in 2021.

The Countries Producing the World’s Copper

Many everyday products depend on minerals, including mobile phones, laptops, homes, and automobiles. Incredibly, every American requires 12 pounds of copper each year to maintain their standard of living.

North, South, and Central America dominate copper production, as these regions collectively host 15 of the 20 largest copper mines.

Chile is the top copper producer in the world, with 27% of global copper production. In addition, the country is home to the two largest mines in the world, Escondida and Collahuasi.

Chile is followed by another South American country, Peru, responsible for 10% of global production.

RankCountry2021E Copper Production (Million tonnes)Share
#1🇨🇱 Chile5.627%
#2🇵🇪 Peru2.210%
#3🇨🇳 China1.88%
#4🇨🇩 DRC 1.88%
#5🇺🇸 United States1.26%
#6🇦🇺 Australia0.94%
#7🇷🇺 Russia0.84%
#8🇿🇲 Zambia0.84%
#9🇮🇩 Indonesia0.84%
#10🇲🇽 Mexico0.73%
#11🇨🇦 Canada0.63%
#12🇰🇿 Kazakhstan0.52%
#13🇵🇱 Poland0.42%
🌍 Other countries2.813%
🌐 World total21.0100%

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and China share third place, with 8% of global production each. Along with being a top producer, China also consumes 54% of the world’s refined copper.

Copper’s Role in the Green Economy

Technologies critical to the energy transition, such as EVs, batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines require much more copper than conventional fossil fuel based counterparts.

For example, copper usage in EVs is up to four times more than in conventional cars. According to the Copper Alliance, renewable energy systems can require up to 12x more copper compared to traditional energy systems.

Technology2020 Installed Capacity (megawatts)Copper Content (2020, tonnes)2050p Installed Capacity (megawatts)Copper Content (2050p, tonnes)
Solar PV126,735 MW633,675372,000 MW1,860,000
Onshore Wind105,015 MW451,565202,000 MW868,600
Offshore Wind6,013 MW57,72545,000 MW432,000

With these technologies’ rapid and large-scale deployment, copper demand from the energy transition is expected to increase by nearly 600% by 2030.

As the transition to renewable energy and electrification speeds up, so will the pressure for more copper mines to come online.

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Misc

Mapped: Countries With the Highest Flood Risk

Recent floods in Pakistan have affected more than 33 million people. Where is the risk of flooding highest around the world?

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Risk of Flooding Mapped Around the World

Devastating floods across Pakistan this summer have resulted in more than 1,400 lives lost and one-third of the country being under water.

This raises the question: which nations and their populations are the most vulnerable to the risk of flooding around the world?

Using data from a recent study published in Nature, this graphic maps flood risk around the world, highlighting the 1.81 billion people directly exposed to 1-in-100 year floods. The methodology takes into account potential risks from both inland and coastal flooding.

Asian Countries Most at Risk from Rising Water Levels

Not surprisingly, countries with considerable coastlines, river systems, and flatlands find themselves with high percentages of their population at risk.

The Netherlands and Bangladesh are the only two nations in the world to have more than half of their population at risk due to flooding, at 59% and 58%, respectively. Vietnam (46%), Egypt (41%), and Myanmar (40%) round out the rest of the top five nations.

Besides the Netherlands, only two other European nations are in the top 20 nations by percentage of population at risk, Austria (18th at 29%) and Albania (20th at 28%).

RankCountryFlood risk, by population exposed (%)Total population exposed
#1🇳🇱 Netherlands58.7%10,100,000
#2🇧🇩 Bangladesh57.5%94,424,000
#3🇻🇳 Vietnam46.0%45,504,000
#4🇪🇬 Egypt40.5%38,871,000
#5🇲🇲 Myanmar39.9%19,104,000
#6🇱🇦 Laos39.7%2,985,000
#7🇰🇭 Cambodia38.1%7,431,000
#8🇬🇾 Guyana37.9%276,000
#9🇸🇷 Suriname37.7%233,000
#10🇮🇶 Iraq36.8%16,350,000
#11🇹🇭 Thailand33.9%25,431,000
#12🇸🇸 South Sudan32.5%5,437,000
#13🇵🇰 Pakistan31.1%71,786,000
#14🇳🇵 Nepal29.4%11,993,000
#15🇨🇬 Republic of the Congo29.3%1,170,000
#16🇵🇭 Philippines29.0%30,483,000
#17🇯🇵 Japan28.7%36,060,000
#18🇦🇹 Austria27.8%2,437,000
#19🇮🇳 India27.7%389,816,000
#20🇦🇱 Albania27.6%771,000
#21🇨🇳 China27.5%394,826,000
#22🇹🇩 Chad27.4%4,547,000
#23🇮🇩 Indonesia27.0%75,696,000
#24🇭🇷 Croatia26.9%1,094,000
#25🇸🇰 Slovakia26.7%1,401,000

The Southeast Asia region alone makes up more than two-thirds of the global population exposed to flooding risk at 1.24 billion people.

China and India account for 395 million and 390 million people, respectively, with both nations at the top in terms of the absolute number of people at risk of rising water levels. The rest of the top five countries by total population at risk are Bangladesh (94 million people at risk), Indonesia (76 million people at risk), and Pakistan (72 million people at risk).

How Flooding is Already Affecting Countries Like Pakistan

While forecasted climate and natural disasters can often take years to manifest, flooding affected more than 100 million people in 2021. Recent summer floods in Pakistan have continued the trend in 2022.

With 31% of its population (72 million people) at risk of flooding, Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to floods.

In 2010, floods in Pakistan were estimated to have affected more than 18 million people. The recent floods, which started in June, are estimated to have affected more than 33 million people as more than one-third of the country is submerged underwater.

The Cost of Floods Today and in the Future

Although the rising human toll is by far the biggest concern that floods present, they also bring with them massive economic costs. Last year, droughts, floods, and storms caused economic losses totaling $224.2 billion worldwide, nearly doubling the 2001-2020 annual average of $117.8 billion.

A recent report forecasted that water risk (caused by droughts, floods, and storms) could eat up $5.6 trillion of global GDP by 2050, with floods projected to account for 36% of these direct losses.

As both human and economic losses caused by floods continue to mount, nations around the world will need to focus on preventative infrastructure and restorative solutions for ecosystems and communities already affected and most at risk of flooding.

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