A Foundation That’s Falling Apart
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Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann/Unsplash
Science

A Foundation That’s Falling Apart

Our Dangerous Over-Reliance on Sand
Paulina Wilk
Reading
time 11 minutes

Among natural resources, sand has one of the fastest-rising prices. And it is far from being abundant. What’s more, the illegal trade in sand grains can be fatally dangerous.

Until now, lying on a mound of sand has been synonymous with summer relaxation, but soon it will become a luxury. While the prices of oil and gas are falling, the value of sand on global markets has been rising for several decades, and has jumped sharply since the start of the 21st century. This phenomenon has been overlooked, but is dramatic. Those environmentalists who specialize in the issue of sand talk of a silent catastrophe, drowned out by the entirely justifiable alarm over plastic pollution in the oceans and the scarcity of fresh water. Contrary to the naïve belief that the Earth has an unlimited supply of this common and seemingly ubiquitous raw material, we have less and less sand, and are consuming it ever more voraciously.

By the end of this century, the majority of beaches in California will have disappeared and the idyllic beaches in Indonesia will be gone; the sandy terrains of Goa and Kerala are also at risk. But this is not because of rising sea levels. Well before our favourite postcard scenes are consumed by the waves, they could be stolen and… ground into concrete.

The foundation of civilization

Although none of us buy it personally in shops or markets, we are all dependent on this raw material that we consume in gigantic quantities. The third most intensively used natural resource after water and air, it is found in many everyday goods: toothpaste, glass, electronic devices such as smartphones and computers, microchips, breast implants… It is used in the production

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Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942, The Art Institute of Chicago
Experiences

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The slim stalk of the Burj Khalifa vanishes in the bright sunlight. Its surface glistens, the reflected rays forcing people looking up to lower their gaze. The world’s tallest building is best viewed in the evening, when it becomes illuminated with artificial light, surrounded by a show of fountains shooting plumes of water, arranged to a set of romantic tunes. Families crowd along the balustrades, trying to get a picture of the tower, but it won’t fit in the shot, sticking way out past the artificially-imagined metropolitan landscape. Reality is not what the Burj is about – it is improbable; too big to fit our imaginations. Like all of Dubai. The Burj Khalifa is most of all a statement. Its presence announces: borders existed yesterday, the future is all about moving or removing them completely.

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