Friday, February 6, 2015

a gritty letter from Crow

Crow was supposed to be posing for a beach scene but what with the cold and snowy weather we've been having lately, he decided he was more interested in Copacabana rather than the one at our local park. I can't say I blame him. In the meantime, I drew this one instead that, hopefully, in a week or so, may become a painting.

On his way to Brazil, Crow made a few stopovers and sent a letter (airmail, of course):

My dear susan,

When people think of beaches the first thing that comes to mind is being able to place one's beach umbrella, blanket, and picnic basket on a broad sandy surface. While this is still the case in many parts of the world it's no longer true everywhere. Sand has by now become the most widely consumed natural resource on the planet after fresh water (UN 2014 study). The annual world consumption of sand is estimated to be 15 billion tons, with a respective trade volume of 70 billion dollars.

Most of your houses, skyscrapers and bridges are made with ferro-concrete which is two-thirds sand (plus cement, water and gravel). 200 tons of sand are needed to build a medium-sized house, 1km of highway requires 30k tons of sand. Especially in Asia and the Arab states the hunger of the construction industry is ever-growing - cement demand by China has increased exponentially by 437.5% in 20 years, while use in the rest of the world increased by 59.8%.

Sand mafias control large parts of the building industry through bribery and also don't hesitate to apply more brutal methods like murdering activists. Not surprisingly, illegal business ties extend to the highest levels of police and government. Illegal sand mining activities are particularly threatening to the water supplies of local communities since river sand is a natural aquifer and its depletion also affects recharging of groundwater.

The depletion of sand sources also leads to bizarre scenes in other parts of the world: in Morocco and India, groups know as 'sand-mafia', turn up at beaches with hundreds of people and take away entire beaches - the sand is then used to build huge hotel complexes for tourists who come to Morocco to visit (what else?) these same beaches.

Sand from deserts can't be used for most purposes, as wind erosion over time forms round grains that do not bind well. For most industrial uses, edged sand grains with a rough surface are needed. Desert sands, however, are usually fine grained and of low shear strength - it's not even suitable for the creation of artificial islands. Dubai, for example, used up all its satisfactory marine sand supplies for an artificial set of sand islands and, after these were exhausted, now has to import sand from Australia for continuing its building madness.

Most of the sand is now being extracted from the ocean floor by thousands of large boats sucking up huge quantities of the stuff from the ocean floor in coastal areas. The potential for damage to marine life I'll leave to your imagination (I know you have a good one). In some extreme cases, the mining of marine aggregates has changed international boundaries, ie, the disappearance of entire islands in Indonesia - since 2005 at least 24 small islands have disappeared as a result of erosion caused by illegal sand mining. Most of this sand is going to Singapore, which has expanded its surface area by 22% since the 1960s.

As I saw on my way south, even Florida has to resupply its famous beaches with sand because of the losses caused by offshore sand dredging. Are you surprised?

My condor friends are making ready for their flight back to the Andes. While we sojourn together over the lofty peaks my thoughts will often turn to you and my other human friends who show more perception than others of your species.

Fond regards and salutations to all,

ps: I expect to find my fruitcake and brandy stocks replenished on my return.

Who would have guessed?

Now I'm hoping Crystal Crescent Beach is still there come summertime.

with thanks to spiegal


marja-leena said...

Wow, I was not aware of the extent of this but of course!! Locally I've heard of complaints by First Nations regarding illegal? dredging of gravel along their lands on the Fraser River. This impacts their fishing rights and prevents the salmon from laying their eggs in the gravel. All this construction is due to the power of the very wealthy to keep building huge hotels and business towers, and of course apartments to house the brimming overpopulation in cities. Will recycling old concrete, glass and other materials provide enough to save our sands?

Thanks Crow for opening my eyes to this. It is all so depressing, isn't it? Dear Susan, keep on doing your art - it is good medicine against bad news.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

Sand may be serious but running out of fruitcake and brandy would be disaster... I feel Crow's concern.

Andrew MacLaren-Scott said...

...with apologies for flippancy, of course, but I have been imbibing some of the Highland Park malt whisky that a grateful lady gave me (not what it may sound like, I assure you) so my concern for the sand of the planet, and indeed for the planet, and even the entire bleedin' universe is temporarily on vacation. Cheers.

susan said...

Yes, Marja-Leena, I was pretty shocked too when I first read about this, but you're right that it does make sense when you think about it. Recent construction booms here and in the US are largely driven by real estate developers who want to sell to rich people from overseas - those who need shelters for their money. Lots of places are owned but not lived in.

I've read that because sand is undervalued internationally that it's still cheaper to use it rather than find ways to recycle other materials.

Sometimes all the sad things I read make me too depressed to feel like writing much. Working on my drawings and paintings (as well as reading and walking) makes coping a little easier. Thanks, my friend.

susan said...

No matter what's going on, Crow always focuses on his bottom line. After reading the second part of your comment, I think I'll crack one of his bottles - and remember to replace it before his return. Bottoms up.

Tom said...

I am appalled! I didn't realise that this problem existed. I never could see the point of the Dubai sand islands, except to boost the ego(s) of over-rich oil kingdoms. It seems to be a losing combination for those who wish to preserve, appropriately, the world's and venal stupidity. How does all this gel with the supposed fundamental goodness of humanity?

clairesgarden said...

frightening to live near a beach that might get 'stolen', I imaging that's happening a lot in unregulated places. how sad that they are destroying the sea bed..

Should Fish More said...

An issue I had no idea that existed. Not sure if I thank you or complain.....there seems to be many issues to take up our lives, eh?
Not meaning to be frivilous here.
Be interested to see the sketch completed in watercolor, I imagine I'll take a fancy to it.

susan said...

I was quite dumfounded by this as well, Tom. That so much damage is being done to our environment by a very few in their neverending quest for wealth and the power it brings really is frightening and depressing.

At the same time, it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn (after years of suffering in Stalin's Gulag) who said: 'If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.'

susan said...

Imagine running down to the beach only to find a shelf where the sand used to begin. The whole thing is an awful business for people and animals both.

susan said...

Hi Tom, good to see you. I tend to discover a lot of interesting and little known events in my reading and I will admit there are some - like this one, for instance - that I hesitated for a while to draw attention to. I did so because I think my friends who read this blog should know about, even if we can't do much to stop the destruction.

Thanks for the nice comment about the drawing. I have good hopes for this one.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan & Crow
Thanks for your insightful post and sand inflicted gritty letter on such an important matter, for it seems we cannot exist without using monstrous amounts of sand in industry, for concrete, filling roads, brick-making, glass, sandpapers, etc. But the question as to how we can safely remove the sand from designated areas without causing undue erosion or degradation remains a somewhat vexed question. There is an abundance in deserts as the composition is 20% but the mining or collecting the better quality beach sand will have dire results in the eco system and the surrounding dunes. In Australia, both the removal of sand and more so the encroachment of buildings onto the foreshore in many coastal regions has caused sand erosion. But at least some treasures have become world heritage sites such as "" Fraser Island which is the world’s latest sand island in the world. I suggest you ask Crow to fly over and enjoy some much need R& R.
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay
Apologies for allowing some days to go by before responding to your kind comment. I think a large part of the problem with overusing resources as we do is that every need is looked at through a narrow lens. I'm sure things would be better in every way if different methods were tried depending on circumstances and local resources.
Fraser Island really is magnificent - Paradisical, in fact. Crow thanks you for your travel suggestion and says further that he will soon make a stopover.
All the best