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The World is Running Out of Sand…’We’re Eroding Our Foundations’

DESPARDES News Monitor – The more the Earth warms, the more people will need cooling. But the more air-conditioners there are, the warmer the world will become.

But this is the environmental catastrophe you’ve probably never heard of:

Sand and gravel are being removed from river beds, lakes, the oceans and beaches for use in construction – but it’s happening at a rate faster than the materials can be renewed, which is having a huge impact on the environment.

Estimates suggest that between 32 and 50 billion tons of aggregate (sand and gravel) are extracted from the Earth each year, according to a report from the WWF, making it the most mined material in the world.

In 2012 alone, the UNEP estimates enough concrete was created to build a wall around the equator measuring 27 meters high by 27 meters wide.

Ironically, Dubai is importing sand from Australia to keep up with its building needs- it’s the wrong kind of sand for the construction industry, because the particles are rounded by the wind and don’t bind together in cement and concrete as well as the more angular particles found in river beds and lakes.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), sand mining of river deltas, such as in Asia and South Asia, is increasing the risk of climate-related disasters, because there’s not enough sediment to protect against flooding.

Sand is also being used in land reclamation – which is happening apace in Singapore. Such has been Singapore’s demand for sand, it’s become the world’s largest importer.

By 2030, the island nation wants to become almost 500 square kilometers and has grown by almost a quarter since it became independent in 1965.

In 2007, Indonesia banned sand exports to Singapore, after Malaysia did the same in 1997. Last year, Cambodia imposed a permanent ban on sand exports because of its impact on the environment.

So has the use of aggregate with sand worldwide. In 40 years (1970-2010), the usage has nearly quadrupled.

Experts suggest using recycled concrete rubble and quarry dust instead of sand will help.

Breaking the reliance on concrete as the go-to material for building houses, by increasing the tax on aggregate extraction, training architects and engineers, and looking to alternative materials such as wood and straw, would also reduce our demand for sand.

Agricultural practices, including the widespread use of pesticides by local and multinational companies, are impacting insects and and other animal species by destroying their natural habitats.

In a related climate change development, a sweeping report assesses the state of the natural world. It found that humans are having an “unprecedented” and devastating effect on global biodiversity, with about 1,000,000 animal and plant species now threatened with extinction.

A summary of the report’s findings was released Monday by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which was established in 2012 by the United Nations Environment Program and includes representatives from 132 countries.

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” said the report.

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”