March 22, 2019

Sand fills an abandoned house in Namibia. Credit: (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Note: This piece originally aired on September 21st, 2018.

Unless we’re relaxing on it at the beach, or kicking it out of our shoes, we probably don’t think too much about sand. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Sand is a vital ingredient in concrete. And glass. And asphalt. It makes our modern, urban life possible. And our hunger for it is causing more and more trouble.

Vince Beiser, author of The World in a Grain: The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization, explains why sand matters, and how the quest to extract more of it is shaping the world.  

Three Takeaways:

  • According to Beiser, you need around 400 tons of sand to build the average house. And as more and more of the world becomes urbanized, our need for sand increases. 
  • Indeed, fights over sand have led to tragedy. Beiser says that, in India, there are sand mafias, and people have been killed over the substance.
  • Like the extraction of oil or natural gas, sand mining has environmental consequences. The stuff that’s easy to get is mostly gone, and we’re having to go further and further afield to access it.

More Listening: 

Here’s Vince Beiser talking about why there might not BE a Silicon Valley, were it not for sand:

Green, environment, Vince Beiser, Sand

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