Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Humans Produce So Much Junk, We Are Creating a New Geological Layer By Starre Vartan

Consumerism plays a massive role in climate change—all those fossil fuels we have to burn to make and ship our stuff, all those trees cut down to make way for expanding cities and businesses, all that livestock that sate our increasing appetites for burgers and steak. But the environmental impact that all of our material goods have on the planet goes far beyond the greenhouse gases emitted in the process of creating and transporting these things.

In fact, much of it has to do with what we leave behind. It’s a manmade phenomenon so massive that that earth scientists suggest it’s creating a distinct geological layer upon the Earth made up of technofossils. Most people associate geological layers with eras long gone: paleontologists digging up fossils of stegosauruses or ancient corals, the stunning layered lines of the Grand Canyon giving testimony to the billions of years of life on Earth. But we’re creating our own coating on the planet that will outlast us. Just as dinosaur bones and petrified wood persist, so too will markers of our time, and they increasingly include the nonorganic. Couches, ballpoint pens, garage doors, safety pins, zip drives, plastic water bottles, cars, buildings - almost anything that’s not recycled has the potential to fossilize - that is, partially or entirely preserved over time due to burial in the earth or within layers of other fossils - think landfill. There are almost certainly numerous future technofossils in front of you right now.

More than just creating a geological mille feuille of our past, scientists warn that this phenomenon is also making a deep impact on our terrestrial future. And like the Anthropocene—another buzzword popular in the Earth sciences community used to mark a new geological epoch in which human influence became the dominant force on Earth—it represents a profound change.

According to a conservative geological estimate from a team of international researchers led by the University of Leicester, all this stuff weighs 30 trillion tons. That’s 110 pounds—the weight of a semi-truck’s tire—for every square meter of the earth’s surface. The group also calculated that the sheer diversity of the types of technofossils we as a species have made—it already exceeds the number of biotic species living on Earth now, and may even “exceed the total biological diversity through Earth’s history.”.. read more: