We Are So Fat

Humans outweigh elephants. Really.

Taken collectively, we humans and our animals are more than twice as heavy as all other vertebrates on the planet combined. In fact, humans alone are 8 times as heavy as all the wild vertebrates on land.

According to Vaclav Smil:

The total biomass of the world’s population increased to roughly 40 megatons of carbon. To put this number into perspective, consider: The biomass of all life is roughly 500 Gigatons of carbon, the biomass of all wild vertebrates on land is roughly 5 megatons, and the biomass of all vertebrates in the ocean is about 50 megatons of carbon. We have eight time the mass of all wild land vertebrates, and about the same biomass as all the fish and whales in the ocean. Domesticated animals have a biomass of roughly 100 megatons of carbon. The biomass of our animals is about 20 times the mass of all wild vertebrates on land, and 50% larger than the mass of all vertebrates in the ocean.

Let’s crunch the numbers:

  • Humans = 40 megatons…
  • Wild land vertebrates = 5 megatons…
  • Ocean vertebrates = 50 megatons…
  • Domestic vertebrates = 100 tons…

Okay, that sums to 195 megatons of vertebrates on planet earth. Alone, we humans are 21 percent of the total; but together with our animals we’re up 72 percent of the total. This also means that domestic animals outweigh all other vertebrates on the planet—all of them combined, that is.

No particular comment except to note that this isn’t just an idle exercise. It’s historically unprecedented and it’s alarming. Humans are quite literally on the verge of stamping out everything else—an unbelievably diverse array of creatures who share our home but who’s continued existence is increasingly fragile.

Big fat tip o’ the hat to Sightline’s hero Denis Hayes who mentioned this factoid at our 15th Anniversary celebration last weekend—and who then provided us the research for this post. Of course, rising obesity rates have basically nothing to do with this phenomenon. So, yes, title of this post is just a joke.

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  1. Matt the Engineer says:

    Those are mind blowing numbers.I’m glad to say that as a vegetarian my share of those domestic vertebrates is very small but ashamed to admit that as a dog owner, my share goes back up. Plus my share of the human tonnage is higher than it should be :-(Anyone know a way of helping out with the wild vertebrates number?

  2. Jaycee says:

    There’s lots of us with lots of pets and lots of us and our pets weigh too much. Questions is what do we do with a factoid like this? Besides have fun with it, I mean. Can we use it to do something or do we just throw it out there to make ourselves feel better or worse (depending on whether we drive hummers or ride bikes)?

  3. Denis says:

    The point is not that we and our pets and fauna-food weigh too much individually. It is rather that we weigh too much collectively. We are consuming a disproportionate share of the net biological productivity of planet. And our sheer numbers are crowding out the rest of the animal kingdom. Population deserves serious attention again as a political issue—despite the religious, racial, political, and other sensitivities. To extol, say, Sarah Palin’s “inspirational example” in choosing to carry her fifth child to term is just loony tunes—and a real insult to those of us who chose to have just one child, or even no children at all, for the sake of the planet. If we dare to hope that everyone on earth will eventually have a lifestyle equivalent to the Swedes or the Japanese, the carrying capacity of the planet is almost-certainly less than 2 billion people. In biological terms, population overshoot inevitably leads to collapse. If we are willing to all live like Chinese peasants, the carrying capacity would be much higher. But as one who has lived for a few months on less than $1/day, let me assure you that it is miserable. There is nothing ennobling about being destitute. In times past, humanity dodged the bullet by consigning billions to abject poverty. In a globally interconnected world, that is no longer an option. The time when the average American consumed 30 times as much as an average Chinese is over. We must all now begin to consider the moral implications of our sheer numbers and start discussing some of these hard issues in public.

  4. MVP says:

    Agreed, Denis.Yet, would also add: In many ways, a lack of *compassion* for sentient beings, both human and otherwise, increases the problem.Though her reproductive choice is vastly different from my own, I salute Sarah Palin for her courage, integrity, and yes, compassion.Compassion is part of the *solution*, in whatever ways we can best express (i.e., through vegetarianism, bicycling, high MPG cars, celibacy, condomes, abortions, being a great soccer mom/dad, and yeah OK, even being a great *hockey* mom/dad…etc.)Compassion rules!:)

  5. MVP says:

    er, sorry … that smiley face looks rather squished … (not used to this computer!)try this one::0)peace and compassion,Michelle

  6. MVP says:

    ok, thats good, and is also the best I can do; because, neither the hyphen nor the apostrophe works on this particular computer…but smiley faces need not look alike! they just need to smile, thats all!:>)

  7. sarah says:

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.Sarahhttp://www.thetreadmillguide.com

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