Sand: An En­dan­gered Nat­u­ral Re­source

MidWeek (Hawaii) - - Front Page - THE LOW­DOWN Jim Hightower

Li t t l e k n o wn f a c t : Pr a c t i c a l l y e v e r y sky­scraper in ev­ery one of the world’s cities is es­sen­tially made of sand.

As are nearly all shop­ping malls, condo com­plexes, of air­port ter­mi­nals, dams and other large struc­tures.

Amer­ica builds with con­crete — gabil­lions of tons of it — and con­crete is noth­ing but sand mixed with a bit of gravel and wa­ter, then bound to­gether with ce­ment and a few other in­gre­di­ents, and al­lowed to har­den.

In ad­di­tion, ev­ery glass win­dow in those struc­tures is made of melted sand.

Then there’s the network of trans­porta­tion routes we nav­i­gate to reach each of those build­ings — mil­lions of miles of high­ways, tun­nels, streets, sub­ways, side­walks, and air­port run­ways — all mostly made of con­crete or as­phalt — all com­prised mostly of sand.

As ev­er­more peo­ple mi­grate to cities, sand fol­lows to ac­com­mo­date them.

Moun­tains of sand are poured i nto con­struct­ing new homes.

“A t y p i c a l Amer­i­can house re­quires more than a hun­dred t ons of s and, gravel, and crushed stone ... and more than 200 tons if you in­clude its share of the street that runs in front of it,” David Owen re­ported this May in The New Yorker mag­a­zine.

Two ot her huge s a nd hogs are de­vour­ing ever-in­creas­ing vol­umes of t his re­source: Beach restora­tion and Big Oil frack­ing.

We hu­mans are ex­tract­ing an un­be­liev­able amount of these tiny grains of rock to con­struct our mod­ern life, us­ing more sand to­day than any other nat­u­ral re­source be­sides wa­ter.

An­other lit­tle-known fact: The world is start­ing to run out of us­able sand.

“Huh?,” you might ask in dis­be­lief.

The planet has vast deserts t hat are spread­ing at alarm­ing rates, and the cli­mate-change fore­casts say - cation is com­ing at us.

But t he key ad­jec­tive is us­able, and desert sand grains are t oo small and rounded to make con­crete or as­phalt.

And while na­ture does con­stantly cre­ate more sand, it can’t cre­ate nearly enough at a rate fast enough to keep up with the ra­pa­cious extraction by in­dus­tries, gov­ern­ments and our world’s teem­ing pop­u­la­tion.

The rush t o grab ev­ery l ast speck of sand on t he planet is no day at the beach.

Many bil­lions of dol­lars are at stake, so the jour­ney f r om na­ture t o con­crete draws many thou­sands of play­ers vy­ing for a cut of

While many sand ped­dlers make some ef­fort to min­i­mize t he dam­ages, many more don’t care what their plun­der­ing is do­ing to the Earth and its in­hab­i­tants.

Thus, whether the op­er­a­tors are cor­po­rate elites or black-mar­ket gangs, much of the global sand trade is cor­rupt and barely moni

So, the hum­ble com­modi-

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