SciSun: Weight Loss   Leave a comment

Through the holidays, many of us go to parties, attend festive celebrations, enjoy bountiful meals abundant with special seasonal foods (save room for pie!), and occasionally indulge in convenient cookies, candies and snacks ‘just because it’s that time of year!’. Which is all great fun for a few weeks, until we discover our clothes are a bit tight (must have shrunk in the wash), and we don’t feel quite as energetic as we did just a few months ago. Probably the uninviting winter weather that’s holding us back.

Unfortunately, it’s not the seasons snow and cold that’s usually the reason idleness sets in – it’s that many of us put on a few pounds during the holidays (save room for pie??), and as the current years remaining days decrease, the size of our waistlines seems to increase. Or maybe humans lost our way somewhere and we are really more suited to storing fat in the autumn, and hibernate all winter.  (We suspect the Renaissance when everyone was being creative and didn’t have time to rest. After all, it was Shakespeare who wrote “This is the winter of our discontent”.).

But there is another ‘weighty’ matter we need to consider that doesn’t necessarily involve joining a fitness club in January; biomass is material originating from plants and animals; organic materials. The total weight of all biomass on earth is the combined weight of all living and recently dead organisms including grass, trees, wildlife, domestic animals, humans, and all other life (well, except bacteria which are generally excluded from weight because, no one really has any idea how many bacteria there are. Some researchers suspect the total biomass of bacteria outweighs all other life, combined. Which is rather frightening). It’s estimated the total biomass on Earth is about 560 billion tonnes, and of that about 335 million tonnes are humans. (Yes, tonnes is correct. That indicates a metric tonne which is 2,204 pounds. In the USA a ton is 2,000 pounds. There’s also a long ton but that just seems unnecessary). While 335 million of anything is quite a lot, there are other lifeforms that weigh more: Temperate Forests and Rainforests are estimated to create biomass in the tens of billions of pounds. Domestic Cattle (Bos sp.) are believed to weigh over 650 million tonnes in biomass. This isn’t because the average cow needs to cut down on her hay, but because humans depend so much on cattle there are many more of them than would exist if not for mans’ widespread ranching and high levels of cattle production. Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba), a tiny crustacean that looks something like a shrimp, is believed to hold from 400 to 500 million tonnes. (Just like bacteria, it’s really hard to count all those little guys). Blue Whales (Balaenoptera musculus), the largest animal on earth and predator of all those little krill, is estimated to have held about 35 million tonnes prior to aggressive whaling in the 1800’s; today the total biomass of the Blue Whale is only about half a million tonnes.

Squirrels probably don't need extra snacks, any more than we do.

Squirrels probably don’t need extra snacks, any more than we do.

Comparisons, it seems, could go on and on: Some scientists state the total number of ants has more biomass than any other life form (except, of course, those bacteria). Others (scientists, not bacteria) say it’s nematodes and other relatively simple creatures that outnumber everything. Maybe in jest, but an interesting point, some believe if humans continue to gain weight and grow in numbers, one day mankind might become the ultimate biomass champion. Which might not be an award we really want to achieve. But that does take us back to the subject of weight, and the impact of our actions, individually and collectively, on the earth. While ants or termites or krill or bacteria all have impressive biomass, they are also all very physically small compared to humans; and the impact of one ant means little compared to the potential impact of one human. The population size of very few – if any – other animal will continue to grow beyond the carrying capacity of that animals living area. But if humans encounter an hurdle to our plans, we just find a way around it. Very few animals make permanent homes, and virtually none, except man, regularly changes the environment to such an extent it’s difficult or impossible for the native species to remain. Most animals will only eat or store the food and resources they need for themselves and their immediate group. But walk into any supermarket and there’s food enough for thousands of people, re-stocked every day – and in each city are dozens of stores.

As there’s only one earth, the total biomass of ants or krill or whales or humans may appear far removed from indulging yourself with a second piece of pie; perhaps the real concern isn’t one dinnertime choice, but how the inclusive weight of all our actions effect the whole.


Michonne Says: Marmots never think about weight. We’re naturally roundish. If the doors to our burrows ever feel a bit snug, it’s because some rocks are blocking the hole. That happens a lot in the falling-leaves time. I don’t know what else could be making those holes smaller.

Posted January 11, 2015 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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