Sand is surely near the top of the list of things human beings take for granted. Yes, the grainy stuff that warms your feet at the beach and makes little kids giggle with delight in the playground. We don’t give sand a second thought – unless someone tells us we need to.
A study published in September in Science Magazine indicated that, contrary to popular belief, our planet does not have a limitless supply of sand. Next to water, sand is the world’s most widely used natural resource. But unless international regulations are formulated, serious environmental consequences are almost guaranteed, experts say.
getAbstract’s summary of author David Owen’s piece, “The World is Running Out of Sand,” in The New Yorker explains why the demand for this commonplace substance is rapidly creating a global crisis.
Among the fascinating nuggets:
- In just four years, China has used more sand than the U.S. did in the 20th
- Sand comprises 94% of asphalt and 80% of concrete.
- A one-mile stretch of a single lane highway uses more than 35,000 tons of sand-based materials.
- Sand is a fundamental component of electronics, windowpanes and cell phone screens.
- Not all sand is created equal. Dubai is teeming with desert sand, but it’s too smooth to use for construction so the wealthy Arab country imported sand from Australia to build the Burj Kahlifa – the world’s tallest building.
“The most dramatic global increase in aggregate consumption is occurring in parts of the world where people who build roads are trying to keep pace with people who buy cars,” Owen writes.
Not surprisingly, a prized commodity such as sand attracts black market profiteers. According to The Economist, thieves in Morocco and the Caribbean are “stripping beaches bare.” Intimidation tactics are used on locals in India to remove and transport sand. Dredging and mining worldwide are outpacing natural supplies, particularly in developing countries. The U.S. is extracting sand from the ocean floor to fortify beaches damaged by major hurricanes. According to Owen, this process affects sea organisms and their habitats and alters water circulation patterns. In short, it harms the environment.
The Economist article suggests that there are alternatives to sand, such as recycled concrete and asphalt; straw and wood can be used to build houses. But clearly formal policies are required to address the sand shortage. Awareness is the first step.
Just something to think about the next time you’re walking the beach.