Chủ Nhật, Tháng Tư 14, 2024
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HomeLISTENING The world is running out of sand

[Mp3] The world is running out of sand

I’ll try to make this quick since we don’t have a lot of time. The world is running out of sand. Crazy, right? We have literal tons of it on beaches, deserts and under the ocean. But we’re using it up faster than the planet can make it.


We use sand way more than you’d expect. Worldwide, we go through 50 billion tons of sand every year. That is twice the amount produced by every river in the world. After air and water, sand is the most used natural resource. We use it even more than oil. We use it to make food, wine, toothpaste, glass, computer chips, breast implants, cosmetics, paper paint, and plastics. So where does it all come from? Well let’s ask Vince Peyser, he wrote a book on it, called “The world in a grain”.


Vince Peyser: So the sand that we use is what you call marine san. It’s the sand that you find at the bottom of rivers and on beaches and at the bottom of lakes and oceans.


I know what you’re thinking. And no, we can’t use sand from the desert. Wind erosion makes the grains too round for most purposes. What we need is angular sand that locks together like pieces of a puzzle. You know, like sand broken down from mountain rocks as they’re pelted by rain, wind and rivers for twenty 5 thousand years or so.


The major player for sand usage is concrete. Ok, just to be clear, cement is the lime and clay based glue that sticks everything together and concrete is the final result that you walk on drive on and live inside. Concrete is made of 10% cement, 15% water and 75% sand. The concrete required to build a house takes, on average, about 200 tons of sand; a hospital uses about 3000 tons; and a mile of highway requires 15,000 tons.


It makes sense that the world makes over 4 billion tons of concrete annually. We need more every year. The number and size of our cities is exploding, especially in the developing world. This change is most noticeable in China, now home to the largest urban area in the world, the Pearl River Delta. Between 42 and 60 million people now call the delta home.


China now has a 102 cities with a population of over a million. Europe has 38. All those growing cities, they need a lot of concrete. Between 2011 and 2013, China used more concrete than the US did in the entire 20th century. Again, in three years China built the equivalent of every highway, road, and bridge in the US and the Hoover Dam. So it’s not outrageous to hear that China outpaces the world in cement production, by a lot 2,500 metric tons every year.


All that cement is gonna need a lot of sand to make concrete. Most of it comes from dredging Poyang lake. An estimated 236 million cubic meters of sand is taken from it every year, making it the largest single sand mine in the world. But concrete isn’t China’s only use for sand. They’re also using tons of it to build up islands in the South China Sea, expanding its foothold in the region.


And China’s not the only nation building islands from nothing. You’ve seen these before. The Palm islands and The World are major islands building projects in Dubai and required 186.5 million cubic meters of sand. This depleted the sea floor around the United Arab Emirates, leaving importing sand from Australia as the only option while constructing the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. It’s no surprise then that sand extraction is a 70 billion dollar industry.


Vince Peyser: The easiest and cheapest and best quality sand actually comes from riverbeds. It’s very easy to get; you just send a boat out into the middle of a river with a big suction pump on. It’s just basically like a big straw that you drop down to the bottom of the river, shhh, suck all that sand right up off the bottom.


Problem solved? Nope! The ocean floor isn’t miles of sand deep. It’s a thin layer over rock and that layer is home to microorganisms, which feed the base of the food chain. Collecting all that sand disrupts fishing in the area and the landscape onshore. When removing sand from the seabed, the shore above the water slides into the valley to even itself out. This still leaves shore communities open to flooding and erosion.


Vince Peyser: The recent floods in Houston were actually made worse by sand mining in the San Jacinto River. On the San Jacinto is one of the rivers that borders Houston. It’s also an excellent source of sand. It’s been mined very heavily for sand for the last 10 – 20 years.


Up to 90% of the world’s beaches have shrunk an average of 40 meters since 2008. If you haven’t noticed a change in your favourite beach, you’re not alone. Popular shores replenish their dying beaches with even more sand imported from elsewhere usually at taxpayers expense. And if we keep it up, almost 70% of Southern California’s spectacular beaches could be completely eroded by 2100.


Governments worldwide have begun to regulate and restrict sand mining and concrete production. So now problem solved, right? Actually it’s caused an entirely new problem. The black market of sand. Over 100 billion tons has been stolen over the past few decades. Illegal sand mining has led to the rise of the Sand Mafia, India’s strongest criminal organization. This interconnected group of businessmen, drivers, and criminals use intimidation, and if that fails, violence and murder to keep the sand flowing. Illegal sand generates 2.3 billion dollars a year, employing 75,000 of India’s impoverished to dive for sand and rivers. Divers work 12-hour days, diving up to 200 times, and only making $15 a boatload. Many suffer from bleeding ears and headaches. Drownings go unreported.


Worldwide, illegal sand mining has destroyed entire islands. Two dozen Indonesian islands have disappeared around the same time Singapore imported 17 million tonnes for its massive 50-mile land expansion. It wasn’t until 2010 that dozens of Malaysian officials were charged with accepting bribes and sexual favors for importing the illegal sand.


Vince Peyser: The first thing that we’re gonna see in this country, this sort-of canary in the coalmine, that will really let us know that things are starting to get bad, is prices. I believe that this is one of the reasons that housing costs have gone up so much in pretty much all of America’s big cities. Because the price of sand has about quintupled in the last 30 – 40 years. And that’s one of the critical inputs of course whenever you’re building a house is sand for the concrete.


We do have some alternatives. While crushing rocks and recycled concrete is expensive, it can be used to create concrete-quality sand. Glass bottles can be ground up to make recycled glass sand to replenish beaches. Yes it’s totally safe and no it’s not going to cut you. Finally UN environmental program suggest better pricing and taxing on sand mining in order to encourage these alternatives. They also recommend an immediate need for creating regulations in all countries as well as international waters.


Vince Peyser: The question isn’t how we can use less sand. It’s how can we use less of everything, trees, water, fish. We’re overusing all of those things and sand is just one thing that we should be adding to the list. Well, we’re on track to be a planet of at least 9 billion people in the next 20 years. Most of them are gonna want to consume resources the way that we do in the Western world and that is just physically impossible.


The best move you can do is just to use less. The less we need to make, the less resources we use.



literal /ˈlɪt.ər.əl/ [C2] (adj): thực sự

angular /ˈæŋ.ɡjə.lər/ (adj): góc cạnh

lime /laɪm/ (n): vôi

clay /kleɪ/ (n): đất sét

outrageous /ˌaʊtˈreɪ.dʒəs/ [B2] (adj): thái quá

outpace /ˌaʊtˈpeɪs/ (v): vượt xa, vượt qua

foothold /ˈfʊt.həʊld/ (n): chỗ đứng

extraction /ɪkˈstræk.ʃən/ (n): sự khai thác

suction /ˈsʌk.ʃən/ (n): hút

straw /strɔː/ (n): ống hút

microorganism /ˌmaɪ.krəʊˈɔː.ɡən.ɪ.zəm/ (n): vi sinh vật

shrink /ʃrɪŋk/ [B2] (v): co lại

replenish /rɪˈplen.ɪʃ/ (v): bổ sung

regulate /ˈreɡ.jə.leɪt/ [C1] (v): điều tiết

intimidation /ɪnˌtɪm.ɪˈdeɪ.ʃən/ (n): sự đe dọa

the impoverished /ɪmˈpɒv.ər.ɪʃt/ (adj): người nghèo

bribe /braɪb/ [C1] (n): tiền hoặc quà hối lộ

canary /kəˈneə.ri/ (n): chim hoàng yến

quintuple /kwɪnˈtʃuː.pl/ (v): tăng gấp 5

alternative /ɒlˈtɜː.nə.tɪv/ [B2] (n): sự thay thế


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