Next to air and water, sand is the most highly consumed resource on the planet.

AKA silica dioxide, we used it to build the Great Pyramids of Giza and we still need it today to build all technology from high-speed internet cables to computer chips.

And it’s running out.

Between 2011 and 2013, China consumed more sand and concrete than the US did in the entire 20th century.[1]

We used to mine sand from riverbeds and quarries, but after depleting those, we can now only get useful sand by dredging seas. It’s a non-renewable resource, but unlike fossil fuels, there are no alternative resources to replace it.

You might be thinking “umm… there’s a lot of sand in the desert” – desert sand is too smooth and fine for use. Today there’s a big market for selling sand to Saudi Arabia[2] and other desert nations. Some nations, like Singapore, are stockpiling sand in anticipation of global shortages. Others, like Malaysia and Indonesia, realised that they’ve lost valuable islands and inadvertently shrunk their national boundaries due to mining it.[3] Increasingly, this mining is performed illegally by criminal gangs.[4]

In our modern economy, it’s no longer possible to have an intuitive perspective about the most precarious parts of our economy. We’re only just beginning to collectively accept that sometimes there are unintuitive forecasts of future catastrophic events that need us to take collective action today.

There are some things that we can easily grasp as true, though. The Earth’s resources are finite. The more we try and optimise our use of what we have, the more we detract from our habitable planet. At the same time, we can’t become complacent, as that’s a sure way to fizzle out of existence.

We have no choice but to build and grow our global commonwealth. Thankfully, there is a limitless abundance of sand and other resources available to us. Beyond Earth.

So let’s go. Not from Earth, but for Earth.


[1] USGS, Cement Statistics 1900-2012; USGS, Mineral Industry of China 1990-2013
[2] “Aussies sell sand to the Saudis”, The Daily Telegraph, 2007
[3] “Exclusive: In blow to Singapore’s expansion, Malaysia bans sea sand exports”, Reuters, 2018
[4] “Entire islands disappear as violent gangs steal sand amid global shortage”, The Independent, 2016