What Is the Technosphere?

What Is the Technosphere?

As another measure of the extent to which man is changing the planet, it has been reported that Earth’s “technosphere” now weighs 30 trillion tons. That’s according to a paper published online, in the journal The Anthropocene Review, this past November.

All combined, everything man-made (on Earth) — including all our discarded trash — collectively makes up what has been termed the “technosphere.” That “30 trillion ton” figure would equate to distributing, evenly, all across the Earth’s surface, 110 pounds of this stuff, for each 11 square foot area. To visualize just how small a space that is — about the size of a small kitchen table — search on Google Images: “one square meter.”

The technosphere can also be described as “a system, with its own dynamics and energy flows,” according to Jan Zalasiewicz, one of the paper’s lead authors.  We “keep it going”; and it keeps us going. “Humans and human organizations” make up part of it as well. Materially, it collectively outweighs the human race, by a 60,000 to 1 ratio; and “surpasses the natural biosphere in mass and variety,” as Science News noted in its news report on this topic (Thomas Sumner, “Humans’ stuff vastly outweighs humans” Feb. 4, 2017).

According to another of the paper’s lead authors, Mark Williams — also of the University of Leicester — “The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet, and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly.”

The technosphere is described by Zalasiewicz as being the brainchild of American scientist Peter Haff, who is also listed as one of the paper’s authors.

This technosphere concept is just one more way to view how profoundly the human race is transforming this planet.

In that very same issue of Science News I’ve referenced above, another article describes how “one of Antartica’s largest ice shelves is nearing its breaking point” (Thomas Sumner, “Antarctic ice shelf heading toward collapse” Feb. 4, 2017). A “colossal,” widening crack is now only 20 kilometers from reaching the point at which the Larsen C ice shelf will break off, sending that Delaware-sized ice cube into the sea.

But that’s just a tip of the iceburg (pun intended). For example, as reported online by The Washington Post, last year (Chelsea Harvey, “Greenland lost a staggering 1 trillion tons of ice in just four years” July 19, 2016), a study using satellite-derived data published the previous week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters “suggests that the Greenland ice sheet lost a whopping 1 trillion tons of ice between the years 2011 and 2014.” All of that melting ice flowing into the sea not only contributes to rising sea levels, it also effects the biosphere in other ways as well. But if 1 trillion tons of melting ice sounds like a lot, try wrapping your mind around this (this is another excerpt from that Washington Post article, concerning Greenland):

Research already suggests that the ice sheet has lost at least 9 trillion tons of ice in the past century and that the rate of loss has increased over time. Climate scientists are keeping a close eye on the region because of its potentially huge contributions to future sea-level rise (around 20 feet if the whole thing were to melt) …

While research papers like the ones I’ve cited above are, of course, always a welcome and important part of the process that potentially could propel us towards making the necessary changes in how we live on this planet, part of me also can’t help but ask “Why even do this research, if, in terms of human behavior, we never change our ways? How many studies do we need to do before we act? Someone should do a study on that, or on how many studies have already been done, that point to an obvious need for humanity to change its ways and recognize the urgency of the emergency staring right at us.

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