Global Biomass and Human Responsibility

Global Biomass and Human Responsibility

You may be surprised to know that the total biomass of bacteria in the ground is 1000 times more than the mass of humans. Mass is the total number of molecules present, and we usually measure it by weight, which is the pull of gravity on the molecules. For example, the mass of living things in the ocean equals 100 times the mass of all humans on planet Earth. In other words, if you totaled the quantity of matter in whales, fish, corals, clams, etc., you would have 100 times more molecules than in all living humans. If you counted the number of individual life forms in the oceans, the ratio would be even greater than 100-to-one, but that is quantity, and we are talking about global biomass.

Not only is the mass of underground bacteria greater than that of humans, but even worms have three times our mass. Even more surprising, the mass of viruses on Earth exceeds human mass by more than three times, and the global biomass of all bacteria is more than 1100 times that of all humans. There are some important messages in these numbers. One is that we must understand that we can’t eliminate viruses or bacteria in the world. Furthermore, we wouldn’t want to. Bacteria and viruses are essential in sustaining all other forms of life.

Another thing we need to consider is that humans keep (as livestock, poultry, and pets) a third of all mammal biomass on the planet and two-thirds of all bird mass. In Genesis 1:28, God gave humans the responsibility of managing all living things. We are now beginning to understand the importance of the conservation and management of life on our planet.

The global biomass of plants is another area where we have had a poor understanding. The mass of all plants is 7500 times greater than human mass, and like bacteria and viruses, plants are essential to life on our planet. Human destruction of forests worldwide and the replacement of vegetation with concrete are major factors in pollution and climate change.

The Genesis account says, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth, and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:29-30). Earth’s design is no accident. The role of plants, bacteria, worms, viruses, and all life is a product of an infinitely intelligent and understanding mind.

The dictionary definition of “science” is “knowledge,” and it can never conflict with the mind that created all we see and are. When God challenges us to consider the wisdom in the creation, the human response is like Job’s, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). We know a lot more than Job did, but, like him, there is much we don’t know.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “The Biomass Distribution on Earth” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) May 21, 2018