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Episode
35

Is The World Really Running Out Of Sand?

Mar 13, 2020
Geography
-
16
minutes
Global warming
Economics
Consumption

After water and air, it's the most used natural resource in the world. But are we really running out of it?

If so, why? And what happens if we do?

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Transcript

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can learn fascinating things about the world while improving your English. 

[00:00:16] I'm Alastair Budge and today we aren't going to be talking about sand. 

[00:00:22] Specifically is the world really running out of it, and if so, why? 

[00:00:30] Before we get right into the podcast, let me just remind those of you listening to this on Spotify, iVoox, Apple Podcasts or wherever you may get your podcasts that you can get a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:00:50] You can download the PDF of the transcript, you can read it on the website, and you can now follow it in animating form, which is a bit like subtitles, but way better. 

[00:01:01] So it's super useful for following every single word and not missing a thing. 

[00:01:07] And the key vocabulary explains tricky words, meaning you don't have to pause to look things up in a dictionary and making it even easier to learn new words and phrases.

[00:01:17] So do go and check that out. 

[00:01:20] That's at leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:24] Okay then. 

[00:01:25] When you think of sand, you might think of a lovely beach with palm trees, or you might think of rolling desert sand dunes, camels trekking across them. 

[00:01:39] And sand seems infinite, right? 

[00:01:42] It's on beaches, it's in the desert, it's under the sea.

[00:01:46] It seems like it's everywhere. 

[00:01:49] It's completely implausible, so unlikely, so unthinkable, that we might ever run out of it. 

[00:01:58] But the reality is that we are. 

[00:02:02] To keep up with the ever increasing pace of development humans go through, we consume, vast amounts of sand. 

[00:02:13] After air and water sand is actually the third most used natural resource. 

[00:02:21] And yes, even more than oil.

[00:02:25] I guess that you don't personally buy very much sand.

[00:02:30] I can't think of the last time that I went to the supermarket and bought a kilo or a tonne of sand. 

[00:02:37] Yet sand is a crucial ingredient for a lot of things that you probably do use. 

[00:02:44] It's used to make wine, toothpaste, glass, computer chips, breast implants, cosmetics, paper, paint, plastics. 

[00:02:56] Now I guess you might not consume all of those things, but I'm pretty sure you use some of them. 

[00:03:03] But these things are actually relatively small, they are small-fry compared to the one thing that uses up most of the sand. 

[00:03:15] And that's for building, for concrete, and asphalt for construction.

[00:03:20] Sand, which is normally referred to, normally called, aggregate when talking from a construction point of view, it forms 80% of concrete and 94% of asphalt

[00:03:36] So it's what goes into buildings, roads, car parks, runways, bridges, and almost anything that you might call 'construction'. 

[00:03:50] And we use huge amounts of it.

[00:03:53] In fact, a report from the American Geological Institute said that a typical American house requires more than a hundred tonnes of sand, gravel, and crushed stone for the foundation, the basement, the garage, and driveway. 

[00:04:11] And more than 200 tonnes if you include the share of the street that runs in front of it.

[00:04:19] So, that's 200 tonnes of sand just for one house. 

[00:04:25] And of course it's not just houses. 

[00:04:27] We use concrete for almost every kind of construction project that goes on around the world. 

[00:04:34] And every year, about two cubic metres of concrete is created for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

[00:04:45] Nowhere is this more true than in the developing world, particularly in China and India. 

[00:04:52] While cities in Europe and North America have had in some cases, centuries to develop and build housing for their inhabitants, in countries like China, the population growth and urbanisation has been so fast that just a phenomenal amount of concrete has been used to construct these cities of the future.

[00:05:20] To give you an idea of quite how much concrete China uses, China has about 18.5% of the world's population, just under 20% of the world's population, but it consumes half of the world's supply of concrete

[00:05:39] In the three year period between 2011 and 2014, so just to reiterate, in just three years, China used more concrete than the US, the United States, did in the entire 20th century. 

[00:05:59] China builds vast amounts of new apartment blocks, of course, but recently it has also embarked on a huge new public infrastructure project and created 146,000 kilometres of roads in a single year. 

[00:06:19] And the amount of concrete, and therefore the amount of sand required to produce the materials for this is absolutely huge.

[00:06:29] China's largest sand producing site produces almost a million tonnes of sand per day. 

[00:06:39] So, where is all this sand coming from? 

[00:06:43] Do people just go to the desert with big trucks and take it back to cities?

[00:06:50] And if so, what's the big issue? 

[00:06:52] The Sahara Desert is huge. 

[00:06:54] It's almost 10 million kilometres squared, and about a third of the Earth's land area is desert. 

[00:07:03] So can't we just go and get the sand from there? 

[00:07:07] Unfortunately, no, we can't. 

[00:07:10] The sand from the desert is very different to the type of sand that's needed for construction, for buildings.

[00:07:18] Sand from the desert is very fine as it is constantly blown around by the wind, hitting other grains of sand, and so sand from the desert, the grains of sand from the desert, are round, they're very spherical

[00:07:35] And this might make it nice to walk in barefoot, make it nice to look at, but it's terrible for construction.

[00:07:43] For construction, for cement, what you need is the rough kind of sand, the kind with angular sides. 

[00:07:55] This sand is normally found in the beds of lakes or rivers, and how it is collected is actually pretty simple. 

[00:08:06] A boat normally just goes above it and sucks it up

[00:08:11] But, as with any natural resource, the supply of this sand is finite and it's getting harder and harder to find. 

[00:08:21] Or at least harder and harder to find legally.

[00:08:26] What this has meant is it has led to the emergence of sand mafias

[00:08:33] Criminal gangs that extract sand illegally, often bribing police officers and officials to turn a blind eye, to pretend to not notice. 

[00:08:47] Of course, extracting hundreds of tonnes of sand isn't really something you can do without anyone noticing.

[00:08:54] It's pretty intensive and noisy work. 

[00:08:58] And so in almost all cases, there seem to be corrupt officials involved. 

[00:09:05] Nowhere is this more true than in India where it's thought that the illegal sand business is worth $2.3 billion a year. 

[00:09:17] When they aren't using large boats to suck up the sand, what happens is these sand mafias, they pay divers to go and get the sand, to dive down and get the sand, and it's thought that about 75,000 people are employed in India by these sand mafias to dive for sand in rivers.

[00:09:44] It's obviously a nasty, dangerous job, with divers working 12 hours a day and having to go down and dive up to 200 times in a single day. 

[00:09:58] And of course, whether it's being sucked up by a large pipe or being collected by teams of divers, the removal of the sand from the river beds and the beds of the lakes has a pretty negative effect on the ecosystem.

[00:10:14] While scientists don't really know exactly the scale of the damage, they are in agreement that it is probably an ecological disaster waiting to happen. 

[00:10:26] And although sand is produced naturally, it is produced over the course of thousands of years and the rate at which it's being consumed greatly outstrips, it's much greater than, the rate at which it is created.

[00:10:46] So what can we do about this? 

[00:10:49] Well, unfortunately, there isn't a non-sand way of producing concrete at the scale with which it's needed to keep up with the construction boom. 

[00:11:03] There is research that suggests that small particles of plastic waste, what's called plastic sand, can replace some of the natural sand in concrete, but only about 10%. 

[00:11:19] That may sound like a small amount, and of course it is only 10%, but it would be about 800 million tonnes of sand saved per year.

[00:11:31] There are also some theories that smarter uses of concrete, smarter buildings, will reduce the amount of concrete required, but this is just a temporary reduction and by no means a solution. 

[00:11:46] The reality is that scientists don't really understand the scale of the ecological destruction that our hunger for sand is causing.

[00:11:56] But they are all in agreement that we are going to be hearing a lot more about sand in the years to come. 

[00:12:03] We have just two more stories about sand that I think help reinforce the message. 

[00:12:11] The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, clocking in at 832 meters, is in Dubai. 

[00:12:21] And Dubai, as you may know, was a small town in the middle of a desert until pretty recently.

[00:12:30] You might have thought, well, it's probably pretty easy to get sand to create concrete in Dubai. 

[00:12:37] You almost can't move for the amount of sand that's around the city. 

[00:12:41] It's a city in a desert. 

[00:12:44] But the sand used for the concrete in the Burj Khalifa was imported all the way from Australia. 

[00:12:53] The sand nearby was considered too smooth.

[00:12:57] And secondly, if you need another example of some sand-related excess, the sand in almost all of Dubai's golf courses is also imported. 

[00:13:09] The local sand is too soft and golf balls sink too far into them. 

[00:13:16] There is an estate called Jumeirah Golf estates and it has two courses, both designed by the famous golfer, Greg Norman. 

[00:13:27] In the course called Earth, the bunkers have white sand imported from North Carolina in the USA. 

[00:13:36] And in the course called Fire, the bunkers have red-brown sand, which looks actually pretty similar to the real sand from the desert just across from the golf course. 

[00:13:49] But in this case, the sand is from Ontario, in Canada.

[00:13:55] So, to conclude, we are using a vast amount of sand, just a gargantuan amount. 

[00:14:02] It's clear that we're using too much, but we don't really know exactly what our hunger for sand is doing to the environment and we don't know when it's going to run out. 

[00:14:14] So with that uplifting message comes the end of today's podcast. 

[00:14:20] I hope it has at least proved to be an interesting look into the world of sand.

[00:14:27] And as a reminder, if you are looking for the transcripts and key vocabulary for the podcast, you can get that on the website, both in PDF and animating form. 

[00:14:36] It's really worth checking out, so go and have a look if you haven't done so already. 

[00:14:41] The link to go to is Lenardoenglish.com. 

[00:14:45] And as always, I'd love to know what you think of the show.

[00:14:48] You can find us on Facebook or Instagram and you can of course email us directly. 

[00:14:54] So that's hi hi@leonardoenglish.com 

[00:14:58] I'm Alastair Budge and you've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:15:04] I'll catch you in the next episode.


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can learn fascinating things about the world while improving your English. 

[00:00:16] I'm Alastair Budge and today we aren't going to be talking about sand. 

[00:00:22] Specifically is the world really running out of it, and if so, why? 

[00:00:30] Before we get right into the podcast, let me just remind those of you listening to this on Spotify, iVoox, Apple Podcasts or wherever you may get your podcasts that you can get a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:00:50] You can download the PDF of the transcript, you can read it on the website, and you can now follow it in animating form, which is a bit like subtitles, but way better. 

[00:01:01] So it's super useful for following every single word and not missing a thing. 

[00:01:07] And the key vocabulary explains tricky words, meaning you don't have to pause to look things up in a dictionary and making it even easier to learn new words and phrases.

[00:01:17] So do go and check that out. 

[00:01:20] That's at leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:24] Okay then. 

[00:01:25] When you think of sand, you might think of a lovely beach with palm trees, or you might think of rolling desert sand dunes, camels trekking across them. 

[00:01:39] And sand seems infinite, right? 

[00:01:42] It's on beaches, it's in the desert, it's under the sea.

[00:01:46] It seems like it's everywhere. 

[00:01:49] It's completely implausible, so unlikely, so unthinkable, that we might ever run out of it. 

[00:01:58] But the reality is that we are. 

[00:02:02] To keep up with the ever increasing pace of development humans go through, we consume, vast amounts of sand. 

[00:02:13] After air and water sand is actually the third most used natural resource. 

[00:02:21] And yes, even more than oil.

[00:02:25] I guess that you don't personally buy very much sand.

[00:02:30] I can't think of the last time that I went to the supermarket and bought a kilo or a tonne of sand. 

[00:02:37] Yet sand is a crucial ingredient for a lot of things that you probably do use. 

[00:02:44] It's used to make wine, toothpaste, glass, computer chips, breast implants, cosmetics, paper, paint, plastics. 

[00:02:56] Now I guess you might not consume all of those things, but I'm pretty sure you use some of them. 

[00:03:03] But these things are actually relatively small, they are small-fry compared to the one thing that uses up most of the sand. 

[00:03:15] And that's for building, for concrete, and asphalt for construction.

[00:03:20] Sand, which is normally referred to, normally called, aggregate when talking from a construction point of view, it forms 80% of concrete and 94% of asphalt

[00:03:36] So it's what goes into buildings, roads, car parks, runways, bridges, and almost anything that you might call 'construction'. 

[00:03:50] And we use huge amounts of it.

[00:03:53] In fact, a report from the American Geological Institute said that a typical American house requires more than a hundred tonnes of sand, gravel, and crushed stone for the foundation, the basement, the garage, and driveway. 

[00:04:11] And more than 200 tonnes if you include the share of the street that runs in front of it.

[00:04:19] So, that's 200 tonnes of sand just for one house. 

[00:04:25] And of course it's not just houses. 

[00:04:27] We use concrete for almost every kind of construction project that goes on around the world. 

[00:04:34] And every year, about two cubic metres of concrete is created for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

[00:04:45] Nowhere is this more true than in the developing world, particularly in China and India. 

[00:04:52] While cities in Europe and North America have had in some cases, centuries to develop and build housing for their inhabitants, in countries like China, the population growth and urbanisation has been so fast that just a phenomenal amount of concrete has been used to construct these cities of the future.

[00:05:20] To give you an idea of quite how much concrete China uses, China has about 18.5% of the world's population, just under 20% of the world's population, but it consumes half of the world's supply of concrete

[00:05:39] In the three year period between 2011 and 2014, so just to reiterate, in just three years, China used more concrete than the US, the United States, did in the entire 20th century. 

[00:05:59] China builds vast amounts of new apartment blocks, of course, but recently it has also embarked on a huge new public infrastructure project and created 146,000 kilometres of roads in a single year. 

[00:06:19] And the amount of concrete, and therefore the amount of sand required to produce the materials for this is absolutely huge.

[00:06:29] China's largest sand producing site produces almost a million tonnes of sand per day. 

[00:06:39] So, where is all this sand coming from? 

[00:06:43] Do people just go to the desert with big trucks and take it back to cities?

[00:06:50] And if so, what's the big issue? 

[00:06:52] The Sahara Desert is huge. 

[00:06:54] It's almost 10 million kilometres squared, and about a third of the Earth's land area is desert. 

[00:07:03] So can't we just go and get the sand from there? 

[00:07:07] Unfortunately, no, we can't. 

[00:07:10] The sand from the desert is very different to the type of sand that's needed for construction, for buildings.

[00:07:18] Sand from the desert is very fine as it is constantly blown around by the wind, hitting other grains of sand, and so sand from the desert, the grains of sand from the desert, are round, they're very spherical

[00:07:35] And this might make it nice to walk in barefoot, make it nice to look at, but it's terrible for construction.

[00:07:43] For construction, for cement, what you need is the rough kind of sand, the kind with angular sides. 

[00:07:55] This sand is normally found in the beds of lakes or rivers, and how it is collected is actually pretty simple. 

[00:08:06] A boat normally just goes above it and sucks it up

[00:08:11] But, as with any natural resource, the supply of this sand is finite and it's getting harder and harder to find. 

[00:08:21] Or at least harder and harder to find legally.

[00:08:26] What this has meant is it has led to the emergence of sand mafias

[00:08:33] Criminal gangs that extract sand illegally, often bribing police officers and officials to turn a blind eye, to pretend to not notice. 

[00:08:47] Of course, extracting hundreds of tonnes of sand isn't really something you can do without anyone noticing.

[00:08:54] It's pretty intensive and noisy work. 

[00:08:58] And so in almost all cases, there seem to be corrupt officials involved. 

[00:09:05] Nowhere is this more true than in India where it's thought that the illegal sand business is worth $2.3 billion a year. 

[00:09:17] When they aren't using large boats to suck up the sand, what happens is these sand mafias, they pay divers to go and get the sand, to dive down and get the sand, and it's thought that about 75,000 people are employed in India by these sand mafias to dive for sand in rivers.

[00:09:44] It's obviously a nasty, dangerous job, with divers working 12 hours a day and having to go down and dive up to 200 times in a single day. 

[00:09:58] And of course, whether it's being sucked up by a large pipe or being collected by teams of divers, the removal of the sand from the river beds and the beds of the lakes has a pretty negative effect on the ecosystem.

[00:10:14] While scientists don't really know exactly the scale of the damage, they are in agreement that it is probably an ecological disaster waiting to happen. 

[00:10:26] And although sand is produced naturally, it is produced over the course of thousands of years and the rate at which it's being consumed greatly outstrips, it's much greater than, the rate at which it is created.

[00:10:46] So what can we do about this? 

[00:10:49] Well, unfortunately, there isn't a non-sand way of producing concrete at the scale with which it's needed to keep up with the construction boom. 

[00:11:03] There is research that suggests that small particles of plastic waste, what's called plastic sand, can replace some of the natural sand in concrete, but only about 10%. 

[00:11:19] That may sound like a small amount, and of course it is only 10%, but it would be about 800 million tonnes of sand saved per year.

[00:11:31] There are also some theories that smarter uses of concrete, smarter buildings, will reduce the amount of concrete required, but this is just a temporary reduction and by no means a solution. 

[00:11:46] The reality is that scientists don't really understand the scale of the ecological destruction that our hunger for sand is causing.

[00:11:56] But they are all in agreement that we are going to be hearing a lot more about sand in the years to come. 

[00:12:03] We have just two more stories about sand that I think help reinforce the message. 

[00:12:11] The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, clocking in at 832 meters, is in Dubai. 

[00:12:21] And Dubai, as you may know, was a small town in the middle of a desert until pretty recently.

[00:12:30] You might have thought, well, it's probably pretty easy to get sand to create concrete in Dubai. 

[00:12:37] You almost can't move for the amount of sand that's around the city. 

[00:12:41] It's a city in a desert. 

[00:12:44] But the sand used for the concrete in the Burj Khalifa was imported all the way from Australia. 

[00:12:53] The sand nearby was considered too smooth.

[00:12:57] And secondly, if you need another example of some sand-related excess, the sand in almost all of Dubai's golf courses is also imported. 

[00:13:09] The local sand is too soft and golf balls sink too far into them. 

[00:13:16] There is an estate called Jumeirah Golf estates and it has two courses, both designed by the famous golfer, Greg Norman. 

[00:13:27] In the course called Earth, the bunkers have white sand imported from North Carolina in the USA. 

[00:13:36] And in the course called Fire, the bunkers have red-brown sand, which looks actually pretty similar to the real sand from the desert just across from the golf course. 

[00:13:49] But in this case, the sand is from Ontario, in Canada.

[00:13:55] So, to conclude, we are using a vast amount of sand, just a gargantuan amount. 

[00:14:02] It's clear that we're using too much, but we don't really know exactly what our hunger for sand is doing to the environment and we don't know when it's going to run out. 

[00:14:14] So with that uplifting message comes the end of today's podcast. 

[00:14:20] I hope it has at least proved to be an interesting look into the world of sand.

[00:14:27] And as a reminder, if you are looking for the transcripts and key vocabulary for the podcast, you can get that on the website, both in PDF and animating form. 

[00:14:36] It's really worth checking out, so go and have a look if you haven't done so already. 

[00:14:41] The link to go to is Lenardoenglish.com. 

[00:14:45] And as always, I'd love to know what you think of the show.

[00:14:48] You can find us on Facebook or Instagram and you can of course email us directly. 

[00:14:54] So that's hi hi@leonardoenglish.com 

[00:14:58] I'm Alastair Budge and you've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:15:04] I'll catch you in the next episode.


[00:00:04] Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English, the show where you can learn fascinating things about the world while improving your English. 

[00:00:16] I'm Alastair Budge and today we aren't going to be talking about sand. 

[00:00:22] Specifically is the world really running out of it, and if so, why? 

[00:00:30] Before we get right into the podcast, let me just remind those of you listening to this on Spotify, iVoox, Apple Podcasts or wherever you may get your podcasts that you can get a copy of the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:00:50] You can download the PDF of the transcript, you can read it on the website, and you can now follow it in animating form, which is a bit like subtitles, but way better. 

[00:01:01] So it's super useful for following every single word and not missing a thing. 

[00:01:07] And the key vocabulary explains tricky words, meaning you don't have to pause to look things up in a dictionary and making it even easier to learn new words and phrases.

[00:01:17] So do go and check that out. 

[00:01:20] That's at leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:24] Okay then. 

[00:01:25] When you think of sand, you might think of a lovely beach with palm trees, or you might think of rolling desert sand dunes, camels trekking across them. 

[00:01:39] And sand seems infinite, right? 

[00:01:42] It's on beaches, it's in the desert, it's under the sea.

[00:01:46] It seems like it's everywhere. 

[00:01:49] It's completely implausible, so unlikely, so unthinkable, that we might ever run out of it. 

[00:01:58] But the reality is that we are. 

[00:02:02] To keep up with the ever increasing pace of development humans go through, we consume, vast amounts of sand. 

[00:02:13] After air and water sand is actually the third most used natural resource. 

[00:02:21] And yes, even more than oil.

[00:02:25] I guess that you don't personally buy very much sand.

[00:02:30] I can't think of the last time that I went to the supermarket and bought a kilo or a tonne of sand. 

[00:02:37] Yet sand is a crucial ingredient for a lot of things that you probably do use. 

[00:02:44] It's used to make wine, toothpaste, glass, computer chips, breast implants, cosmetics, paper, paint, plastics. 

[00:02:56] Now I guess you might not consume all of those things, but I'm pretty sure you use some of them. 

[00:03:03] But these things are actually relatively small, they are small-fry compared to the one thing that uses up most of the sand. 

[00:03:15] And that's for building, for concrete, and asphalt for construction.

[00:03:20] Sand, which is normally referred to, normally called, aggregate when talking from a construction point of view, it forms 80% of concrete and 94% of asphalt

[00:03:36] So it's what goes into buildings, roads, car parks, runways, bridges, and almost anything that you might call 'construction'. 

[00:03:50] And we use huge amounts of it.

[00:03:53] In fact, a report from the American Geological Institute said that a typical American house requires more than a hundred tonnes of sand, gravel, and crushed stone for the foundation, the basement, the garage, and driveway. 

[00:04:11] And more than 200 tonnes if you include the share of the street that runs in front of it.

[00:04:19] So, that's 200 tonnes of sand just for one house. 

[00:04:25] And of course it's not just houses. 

[00:04:27] We use concrete for almost every kind of construction project that goes on around the world. 

[00:04:34] And every year, about two cubic metres of concrete is created for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

[00:04:45] Nowhere is this more true than in the developing world, particularly in China and India. 

[00:04:52] While cities in Europe and North America have had in some cases, centuries to develop and build housing for their inhabitants, in countries like China, the population growth and urbanisation has been so fast that just a phenomenal amount of concrete has been used to construct these cities of the future.

[00:05:20] To give you an idea of quite how much concrete China uses, China has about 18.5% of the world's population, just under 20% of the world's population, but it consumes half of the world's supply of concrete

[00:05:39] In the three year period between 2011 and 2014, so just to reiterate, in just three years, China used more concrete than the US, the United States, did in the entire 20th century. 

[00:05:59] China builds vast amounts of new apartment blocks, of course, but recently it has also embarked on a huge new public infrastructure project and created 146,000 kilometres of roads in a single year. 

[00:06:19] And the amount of concrete, and therefore the amount of sand required to produce the materials for this is absolutely huge.

[00:06:29] China's largest sand producing site produces almost a million tonnes of sand per day. 

[00:06:39] So, where is all this sand coming from? 

[00:06:43] Do people just go to the desert with big trucks and take it back to cities?

[00:06:50] And if so, what's the big issue? 

[00:06:52] The Sahara Desert is huge. 

[00:06:54] It's almost 10 million kilometres squared, and about a third of the Earth's land area is desert. 

[00:07:03] So can't we just go and get the sand from there? 

[00:07:07] Unfortunately, no, we can't. 

[00:07:10] The sand from the desert is very different to the type of sand that's needed for construction, for buildings.

[00:07:18] Sand from the desert is very fine as it is constantly blown around by the wind, hitting other grains of sand, and so sand from the desert, the grains of sand from the desert, are round, they're very spherical

[00:07:35] And this might make it nice to walk in barefoot, make it nice to look at, but it's terrible for construction.

[00:07:43] For construction, for cement, what you need is the rough kind of sand, the kind with angular sides. 

[00:07:55] This sand is normally found in the beds of lakes or rivers, and how it is collected is actually pretty simple. 

[00:08:06] A boat normally just goes above it and sucks it up

[00:08:11] But, as with any natural resource, the supply of this sand is finite and it's getting harder and harder to find. 

[00:08:21] Or at least harder and harder to find legally.

[00:08:26] What this has meant is it has led to the emergence of sand mafias

[00:08:33] Criminal gangs that extract sand illegally, often bribing police officers and officials to turn a blind eye, to pretend to not notice. 

[00:08:47] Of course, extracting hundreds of tonnes of sand isn't really something you can do without anyone noticing.

[00:08:54] It's pretty intensive and noisy work. 

[00:08:58] And so in almost all cases, there seem to be corrupt officials involved. 

[00:09:05] Nowhere is this more true than in India where it's thought that the illegal sand business is worth $2.3 billion a year. 

[00:09:17] When they aren't using large boats to suck up the sand, what happens is these sand mafias, they pay divers to go and get the sand, to dive down and get the sand, and it's thought that about 75,000 people are employed in India by these sand mafias to dive for sand in rivers.

[00:09:44] It's obviously a nasty, dangerous job, with divers working 12 hours a day and having to go down and dive up to 200 times in a single day. 

[00:09:58] And of course, whether it's being sucked up by a large pipe or being collected by teams of divers, the removal of the sand from the river beds and the beds of the lakes has a pretty negative effect on the ecosystem.

[00:10:14] While scientists don't really know exactly the scale of the damage, they are in agreement that it is probably an ecological disaster waiting to happen. 

[00:10:26] And although sand is produced naturally, it is produced over the course of thousands of years and the rate at which it's being consumed greatly outstrips, it's much greater than, the rate at which it is created.

[00:10:46] So what can we do about this? 

[00:10:49] Well, unfortunately, there isn't a non-sand way of producing concrete at the scale with which it's needed to keep up with the construction boom. 

[00:11:03] There is research that suggests that small particles of plastic waste, what's called plastic sand, can replace some of the natural sand in concrete, but only about 10%. 

[00:11:19] That may sound like a small amount, and of course it is only 10%, but it would be about 800 million tonnes of sand saved per year.

[00:11:31] There are also some theories that smarter uses of concrete, smarter buildings, will reduce the amount of concrete required, but this is just a temporary reduction and by no means a solution. 

[00:11:46] The reality is that scientists don't really understand the scale of the ecological destruction that our hunger for sand is causing.

[00:11:56] But they are all in agreement that we are going to be hearing a lot more about sand in the years to come. 

[00:12:03] We have just two more stories about sand that I think help reinforce the message. 

[00:12:11] The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, clocking in at 832 meters, is in Dubai. 

[00:12:21] And Dubai, as you may know, was a small town in the middle of a desert until pretty recently.

[00:12:30] You might have thought, well, it's probably pretty easy to get sand to create concrete in Dubai. 

[00:12:37] You almost can't move for the amount of sand that's around the city. 

[00:12:41] It's a city in a desert. 

[00:12:44] But the sand used for the concrete in the Burj Khalifa was imported all the way from Australia. 

[00:12:53] The sand nearby was considered too smooth.

[00:12:57] And secondly, if you need another example of some sand-related excess, the sand in almost all of Dubai's golf courses is also imported. 

[00:13:09] The local sand is too soft and golf balls sink too far into them. 

[00:13:16] There is an estate called Jumeirah Golf estates and it has two courses, both designed by the famous golfer, Greg Norman. 

[00:13:27] In the course called Earth, the bunkers have white sand imported from North Carolina in the USA. 

[00:13:36] And in the course called Fire, the bunkers have red-brown sand, which looks actually pretty similar to the real sand from the desert just across from the golf course. 

[00:13:49] But in this case, the sand is from Ontario, in Canada.

[00:13:55] So, to conclude, we are using a vast amount of sand, just a gargantuan amount. 

[00:14:02] It's clear that we're using too much, but we don't really know exactly what our hunger for sand is doing to the environment and we don't know when it's going to run out. 

[00:14:14] So with that uplifting message comes the end of today's podcast. 

[00:14:20] I hope it has at least proved to be an interesting look into the world of sand.

[00:14:27] And as a reminder, if you are looking for the transcripts and key vocabulary for the podcast, you can get that on the website, both in PDF and animating form. 

[00:14:36] It's really worth checking out, so go and have a look if you haven't done so already. 

[00:14:41] The link to go to is Lenardoenglish.com. 

[00:14:45] And as always, I'd love to know what you think of the show.

[00:14:48] You can find us on Facebook or Instagram and you can of course email us directly. 

[00:14:54] So that's hi hi@leonardoenglish.com 

[00:14:58] I'm Alastair Budge and you've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds by Leonardo English. 

[00:15:04] I'll catch you in the next episode.