Energy News Today

The world is running out of a crucial commodity


Dozens of trucks dump hundreds of thousands of tons of sand on Miami Beach as part of U.S. government measures to protect Florida’s tourist destinations against the effects of climate change.

EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — An insatiable global appetite for sand, one of the world’s most important but least appreciated commodities, is unlikely to let up anytime soon. The problem, however, is that this resource is slipping away.

Our entire society is built on sand. It is the world’s most consumed raw material after water and an essential ingredient to our everyday lives.

Sand is the primary substance used in the construction of roads, bridges, high-speed trains and even land regeneration projects. Sand, gravel and rock crushed together are melted down to make the glass used in every window, computer screen and smart phone. Even the production of silicon chips uses sand.

Yet, the world is facing a shortage — and climate scientists say it constitutes one of the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st century.

“Is it time for panicking? Well, that will certainly not help, but it is time to take a look and change our perception about sand,” Pascal Peduzzi, a climate scientist with the United Nations Environment Programme, said during a webinar hosted by think tank Chatham House.

We never thought we would run out of sand, but it is starting in some places.

Pascal Peduzzi

Director of GRID-Geneva

Peduzzi, who is the director of UNEP’s Global Resource Information Database in Geneva, Switzerland, described the global governance of sand resources as “the elephant in the room.”

“We just think that sand is everywhere. We never thought we would run out of sand, but it is starting in some places. It is about anticipating what can happen in the next decade or so because if we don’t look forward, if we don’t anticipate, we will have massive problems about sand supply but also about land planning,” he added.

A sand-fueled construction boom

The global rate of sand use — which has tripled over the last two decades partially as a result of surging urbanization — far exceeds the natural rate at which sand is being replenished by the weathering of rocks by wind and water.

Sand can be found on almost every country on Earth, blanketing deserts and lining coastlines around the world. But that is not to say that all sand is useful. Desert sand grains, eroded by the wind rather than water, is too smooth and rounded to bind together for construction purposes.

The sand that is highly sought after is more angular and can lock together. It is typically sourced and extracted from seabeds, coastlines, quarries and rivers around the world.

‘A grain of change’

‘No-one is even talking about this issue’

An excavator and a bulldozer are working on the grounds of the gravel plant and the concrete mixing plant of the Max Bögl group of companies.

Soeren Stache | picture alliance | Getty Images

Unfortunately, Peduzzi told CNBC that the challenge has still not been adequately addressed on the global stage.

“It is still very much new. In many of the development policies, there is no-one even talking about this issue of sand, where it is coming from, the social impacts or the environmental impacts, so there is a lot of things to be done,” he continued.

“Yet, no big plans, no standard on how it should be extracted, no land planning on where you should extract and where you should not extract, no monitoring to where it is coming from in most of the places (and) no enforcement of laws because countries are pondering between development needs and the protection of the environment.”

Looking ahead, industrialization, population growth and urbanization are all trends likely to fuel explosive growth in the demand for sand.

“It’s time to wake up,” Peduzzi said.



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2021-03-05 00:14:55

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