The Technosphere: The World We Have Created

Earth’s ‘technosphere’ now weighs 30 trillion tons — ScienceDaily

“The word technology comes from two Greek words, transliterated techne and logos. Techne means art, skill, craft, or the way, manner, or means by which a thing is gained.”

And so, over the not-so-many millennia of our species’ thumb-and-brain-powered rise to power, we’ve used our art and dexterity to shape the natural world of bone and sinew, fiber and ore, fire and fuel into over a billion different forms of future techno-fossil: 30 trillion tons of man-stuff. Most of this will outlive our civilization, buried in the strata of the unknown future.

It is largely our techno-waste (ballpoint pens, pop tops, toothbrushes, chicken bones, asphalt and radioactive fallout) that will say “we were here” in the Anthropocene to come. The total mass of the technosphere outweighs its progenitor and source, the biosphere.

“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.

“Compared with the biosphere, though, it is remarkably poor at recycling its own materials, as our burgeoning landfill sites show. This might be a barrier to its further success — or halt it altogether.”

Wouldn’t that be a fine epitaph on the headstone of our species:

“They turned the planet into plastic and gas, and thus, their end.”

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. You say the mass of the technosphere outweighs the biosphere. A lot of the technosphere is made of inorganic material, but still: that is incredible that we have produced as much as Mother Nature.

  2. Kathy, nature is both the organic and inorganic from which we extract our living as a species. In this sense, nature is what was here before we showed up that we have transformed into briefly useful things–interstates, skyscrapers, bridges, bluejeans and Subarus–before they become techno-debris. This look at man-made things does not take into consideration the enormous volume of organic nature our one species has taken from the seas and the soil as food whose remains end up not in landfills but in septic fields and river deltas mostly. The footprint of Homo is vast and growing as our billions increase.