We Have Passed Peak Sand; People Will Soon Be Fighting Over the Stuff

CC BY 2.0. The sands of Fort Lauderdale/ Lloyd Alter

They keep piling it on Florida's beaches, but they can't keep it up.

Sand is a hot commodity these days. People are stealing it to make concrete. Even Dubai imports sand because the desert stuff is no good for building; the grains are too eroded and rounded. We asked last year Have reached Peak Sand? and we may well have. Vince Beiser, author ofThe World in a Grain, says demand for sand is causing “the global environmental crisis you’ve probably never heard of.”

They are certainly hearing about it in Florida. Maria Bakkalapulo writes in the Guardian about 'Sand wars': the battle to replenish Florida’s beaches amid climate crisis. Evidently the stuff is being washed away by hurricanes and high waters.

Since the 1950s Florida authorities have spent $1.3bn “nourishing” the beaches – periodically buying in supplementary sand. Despite a huge effort, nearly half the state’s 825 miles of beaches are now considered “critically eroded”.

Most of the sick beaches are in the south; there is lots of sand up north. But evidently "there’s 'tension' because the northern counties 'don’t want their sand being excavated and barged to Miami-Dade county'. Places like the Carolinas also guard their sand jealously."

Senator Marco Rubio wants to change the rules that prevent the importation of sand from the Bahamas, without ever acknowledging the climate crisis that is actually contributing to this problem. Bakkalapulo writes that, in fact, it might all be in vain:

Each year, the cycle continues. Hurricane season brings stronger storms and rising sea levels bring higher tides. Beach repair is the first line of defense, leading to an increasingly costly and desperate scramble for sand. But the bigger picture is just too overwhelming for many Floridians to contemplate. The National Academy of Sciences asserts that global sea levels could rise more than 6ft by 2100, twice as much as previously predicted, making much of Florida uninhabitable.

Instead, they keep piling more sand on to the beach, trying hold back the sea and hold on to their tourists.

The world in a grain

The world in a grain/Screen capture

In The World in a Grain (which I thought I reviewed for TreeHugger but cannot find, so will shortly), Vince Beiser notes how destructive this is and how hard it will be to fix.

So far we have chosen defense over retreat. Miami Beach is investing $400 million in building seawalls, elevating streets, and installing pumps to combat an anticipated increase in flooding caused by the rising ocean. Around the world, coastal cities like Jakarta, Indonesia, and Bangkok, Thailand, are spending billions on giant seawalls and other protective measures. In retrospect, it was obviously folly to build so much so close to the ocean’s edge. But now there are millions of people and billions of dollars worth of buildings in place; how could we undo all that? No one knows, and few are asking. Which leaves us more or less obliged to keep rebuilding beaches, both as defenses against the ocean and magnets for tourists. The question is, how long can we keep it up before either the money or the sand runs out?

I suspect not very long.