Sand Is The New Oil
The 20th century was largely influenced by the oil market. Economies rose because they struck oil, oil price determined welfare, power and oil were tightly connected. Will oil still continue to play such a major role or will the next century be influenced by something else?
Chances are, sand is the new oil.
Sand is currently the 2nd most extracted natural resource after water. Sand seems to be plentiful at first sight, there are deserts and beaches but we also use it excessively. The word excessive, actually, doesn’t do justice. In the last 30 years, the demand for sand increased by 360% and currently we extract 40 billion tons of sand annually worldwide. This is 9 times more than crude oil.
Also, the impression that our sand resources are infinite is false. Supporting the construction industry’s demand is one of the main purposes of sand extraction and there’s an interesting fact not many are aware of: Only a certain type of sand is adequate for construction, namely marine sand. Because in deserts sand is more exposed, it becomes round and cement will not stick to it. Marine sand, on the other hand, has an angular structure and is ideal for the purpose. This is why, for example, Dubai imported 45,700 tons of sand from Australia to build the Burj Khalifa.
Since extraction mostly focuses on marine sand, suddenly the reserves seem concerningly small. Beaches are already retreating, 24 islands have already disappeared in the Maldives and several indirect effects have been visible as well. Studies show, that if we keep depleting our resources at this pace, all beaches will be gone by 2100.
Not only are there serious environmental consequences of our overabundant sand consumption, social aspects also have to be taken into consideration. Since sand has become so valuable the black market has been booming. Countless criminal organizations are focused on selling illegally mined sand, having miners work in inhumane conditions, killing those who stand in the way. The sand mafia is present globally, several countries are fighting this issue.
In order to be sustainable, cutting back on global sand consumption is a must. The following infographic presents the severity of the issue and gives suggestions on what materials can be used as an alternative to sand. Will society be able to change soon enough to avoid more severe consequences or is it already too late?
Infographic by TradeMachines