Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Now there's a sand crisis

Crushed rock could in many cases do the same job but that costs more

The world uses 50 billion metric tons of sand annually.
Sand is a key ingredient in all concrete and glass production.
There are already ongoing reports of a mafia-style black market for sand.

The most-extracted solid material in the world, and second-most used global resource behind water, sand is an unregulated material used extensively in nearly every construction project on Earth. And with 50 billion metric tons consumed annually—enough to build an 88-foot-tall, 88-foot-wide wall around the world—our sand depletion is on the rise, and a completely unregulated rise at that.

Last week, the Kenya-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a new report with recommendations for avoiding a sand-shortage crisis. This summary follows a 2019 UNEP awareness report in which the organization says the sand crisis has been “overlooked.”

“To achieve sustainable development, we need to drastically change the way we produce, build and consume products, infrastructures, and services,” Pascal Peduzzi, the UNEP coordinator for the sand report writes. “Our sand resources are not infinite, and we need to use them wisely. If we can get a grip on how to manage the most extracted solid material in the world, we can avert a crisis and move toward a circular economy.”

Sand is seemingly everywhere—under our feet, in the walls around us, and, increasingly, in our pockets. The most important ingredient for making concrete, by percentage? Sand. What’s glass? Melted sand. What’s the backbone of silicon, obviously a major player in the tech industry and in putting mobile devices in your hand and pocket? Sand. As a resulty, the world’s demand for sand has started to strip riverbeds and beaches bare. A 2017 NPR report even says we’re ripping up forests and farmlands just to get to more sand.

Naturally occurring over thousands of years—if not hundreds of thousands of years, most sand originates in the mountains and forms as rivers bring it downstream toward oceans. Sure, head to beaches across the world to feel the sand between your toes, but sand does more than delight beachgoers and build cities. Sand also performs key environmental roles; it is a major factor in protecting from storm surges, ensuring healthy natural habitats for a variety of species, and protecting against erosion.

The sand world is an unregulated one, so when sand is pulled from sensitive areas, it distresses biodiversity and creates additional environmental risks that can turn into physical threats. UNEP wants to see an international standard for extracting sand from marine environments, and calls for a central authority to track global sand use while promoting other materials. Officials want incentives for construction projects that ditch sand and instead use crushed rock, recycled construction and demolition material, or ore-sand, a mining byproduct—the three main alternatives to natural sand.

Of course, nothing’s purer—or cheaper—than natural sand. And that has led to a sand underworld, says Vince Beiser on NPR. “Organized crime has taken over the sand business,” he says. “And they do what mafias do everywhere. They bribe police. They bribe cops. And if you really get in their way, they will kill you.”

As the developing world grows, so does the sand business. Places such as India, Indonesia, China, and more have the most issues, Beiser says, even as China uses more sand than any other nation at roughly half of the world’s overall sand use. Small islands have been mined away in Southeast Asia just for their sand.

Sand feeds the materials that build a growing world. The sand crisis is here, and it is not going anywhere.


As California burns, environmentalists find new tactic to halt development

A local subsidiary of New York investment bank Jefferies Financial Group wants to build nearly 3,000 homes on Fanita Ranch, increasing Santee's population of 60,000 by perhaps another 10,000 people. But Jefferies faces a new legal tactic based on fire safety that has stopped the development and others like it up and down California.

The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity successfully sued to stop Fanita Ranch, largely on grounds that evacuation plans were inadequate. As part of her April 6 ruling, the judge found one of the project's purported escape routes toward a state highway was a dead-end street. Collinsworth is part of the group Preserve Wild Santee that was among the plaintiffs.

In response, the developers are revising evacuation plans, said Jeff O'Connor, vice president of community development for HomeFed Corporation, a Jefferies subsidiary. They expect to resubmit plans to the city council by July.

"We are providing somewhere for people to sleep at night. And they're trying to stop us," O'Connor said.

At stake is the future blueprint for housing in California, where the population of 40 million has nearly doubled in the past 40 years as developers met growing demand by building further into dry, windswept canyons. Meanwhile, the state's wildfires are ever more destructive . The eight fires that have since surpassed Cedar in size have all burned since 2017, with five of the top seven in 2020.

The implications could extend beyond state borders. California is closely watched both for its leadership on environmental issues and for lessons that other states can draw as they cope with wildfire and housing issues.

The Center for Biological Diversity's legal line of attack, rooted in provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act, has become increasingly effective since the 2018 Camp Fire destroyed 11,000 homes in Paradise, California. Some of the 85 people killed were engulfed in flames as they were stuck in traffic trying to escape.

The center has been instrumental in stopping four proposals for a total of more than 25,000 homes in recent years.

In addition to Fanita Ranch, the center's lawsuits have halted plans for 1,800 luxury units in Guenoc Valley in northern California pending further evacuation safety review; another 1,119 homes in San Diego County's Otay Ranch Village 14 project over wildfire risk; and 19,300 homes near the Tehachapi Mountains in Los Angeles County, again over wildfire risk.

The center has also filed lawsuits that have yet to go to trial challenging two other San Diego County projects.


Net Zero is a Trojan horse – a Puritan agenda masquerading as environmentalism.

Recall in the movie Back to the Future when Doc warned Marty McFly not to allow his future self to meet his past self, or a catastrophe would occur? Well pay attention, because the conflicting narratives on energy security and Climate Change are on a collision course, and the fallout will hurt us all.

The European and UK energy crisis has seen UK energy bills almost double since 2019 – a trend predating Covid and Ukraine. Gas is primarily used for heating homes and generating electricity. Supplies are short because local supply is restricted (UK fracking banned), global development is down (Biden’s US policy), demand is high (renewables output low, coal phased out) and Russian supplies are interrupted.

Since January 2021, 31 British energy retailers have ceased trading because customers cannot pay their bills. The regulated ‘energy price cap’ was £1,100 (AU$1,900) per year in 2019, reached £1,900 in 2022, and is likely to be lifted again this October to a record high of £2,600 (AU$4,500). With millions of households facing ‘fuel stress’, UK domestic politics has shifted its focus from Climate Change to energy security, a change long overdue. For context, the average Australian electricity bill is AU$1,600.

For years the arguments for energy security in the UK have fallen on deaf ears. The UK’s Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, argued during his recent Australian visit that if people are made to fear Climate Change, they can dismiss the rational argument for energy security. However, when energy price rises bite, the fear of not being able to pay the bills becomes paramount, and the energy security argument can prevail.

Benny’s argument is coming true as the media narrative across Europe and UK has pivoted to match the energy crisis. Headlines about rising cost are overwhelming the usual headlines on Climate Change, and politicians are following suit. Subsequently, the much-heralded IPCC report failed to make a splash. This is a turning point for the UK, as the real cost – and risk – of modelling and ideology crash on the reality of families having to provide food and warmth.

Australia is heading down the same path as the UK. Swap authoritarian Putin for a cabal of Greens, Teals, ALP LEANs, and LNP moderates, and you get an energy crisis with a democratic tinge. LNP Senator Matt Canavan must feel vindicated as he compares the looming policy failures at home against the folly of Net Zero that underpins the UK’s energy crisis.

Net Zero is of course a Trojan horse – a puritan agenda masquerading as environmentalism. The quest to achieve Net Zero will massively increase the uptake of wind and solar (requiring raw materials, land, and transmission lines); reduce exploration, development and consumption of fossil fuels; while relocating emissions-intensive industries to developing countries.

Canavan is correct to point out that this strategy is failing on a grand scale in Europe and the UK and will be a disaster for fossil-fuel-dependent Australia. The coal mining industry directly employed almost 40,000 people in 2020, almost 20,000 in oil and gas, and 150,000 employees in the mining sector overall. These figures exclude supporting industries.

Closing Australian coal mining down altogether is an exercise in stupidity. Indonesia is the global leader for thermal coal exports (used for electricity generation) at 450 million tonnes per annum. Australia, in second place, exports 200 Mtpa, around 10 per cent more than third-place Russia. Chief importer China sources almost 250 Mtpa, while Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the EU together import 330 Mtpa. India and the rest of Asia import a combined 310 Mtpa and increasing.

Australia is ideally placed to serve the expanding coal markets in Asia and India for the foreseeable future, regardless of what the Australian Net Zero factions and their wealthy benefactors believe. The only export these zealots have to offer is carbon piety, and nobody wants it.

Inner-city voters are being wooed with promises of subsidies for electric vehicles and home batteries, while other folks get transmission lines in their backyards. Simon Holmes à Court has joined the campaign against the LNP, and his political investments are set to rival his investments in renewables. If his candidates win the swing against the sitting LNP members, they will shape public policy even further to the advantage of Holmes à Court and his backers. The federal government thinks it will put a stop to this calculated incursion (at least in Josh Frydenberg’s electorate) by committing to achieving Net Zero by 2050, with plenty of spending along the way.

In exchange for retaining Kooyong, this appeasement strategy disguised as pork-barrelling, dressed up as campaigning, will surely lose the government seats in the regions. In the 2019 federal election, with Scott Morrison campaigning against climate change policies, George Christensen was returned with a 64 per cent preference vote; an 11 per cent improvement on the 2016 election. Regional voters, particularly in Queensland, will vote against Net Zero policies every time.

Against a backdrop of high debt, policies that result in high energy costs and high inflation are a recipe for disaster. Both major parties are committed to Net Zero, both are increasing debt, neither are enticing people to reduce their personal debt. How much will the Net Zero fantasy cost us before we wake up, because this is not a movie – there are no do-overs?


Green Britain: Hundreds of schools cuts teaching hours because they can’t afford energy bills

The UK’s cost of living crisis is hitting children’s education – with some schools cutting spending on teaching to save on nightmare bills.

Nearly two-thirds of headteachers are planning to chop down energy consumption amid the largest cost surge in living memory, a new poll reveals.

More than half (54%) say they will limit spending on equipment for their schools, while 15% are reducing the number of teachers or teaching hours.

Meanwhile 30% will scrap some non-educational support and services for pupils after wholesale gas prices skyrocketed and Russia invaded Ukraine.

A survey by the NAHT school leaders’ union showed headteachers are expecting to pay an extra £26,786 for energy in the next financial year.

On average, the total annual energy bill for each school is predicted to be £53,298.

It marks an average 106% jump, with 16% of schools anticipating costs to increase by 200% or more.

More than a third of headteachers – 37% – fear they won’t have enough money in their budget by the end of 2023, with some warning redundancies could be on the cards.

Meanwhile, some are resigning, or considering doing so, so cheaper replacements can be hired.

The poll, which had more than 1,000 replies between March 21 and April 5, showed just 1% of heads believed their energy costs would not increase over the coming year.

Government assistance has proved fruitless for many. with a fifth using either the Crown Commercial Service’s School Switch service or one of the DfE’s approved frameworks for an alternative energy supply quote – but most (74%) still not able to lower costs.

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said a ‘clear’ message had been sent that rising energy costs ‘will almost certainly have a negative impact on education, and could hamper recovery efforts’.

‘For some, the energy price hikes are the equivalent to the cost of a full-time teacher’, he said.

‘Every penny spent in schools is a choice. These increased energy costs mean that money which could be being spent on pupils is being paid to energy companies instead.




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