The Climate Barometer: Could we run out of sand?

The Climate Barometer
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Electric car

What's the tipping point? When does climate action turn from a suggestion by well-meaning governments into a serious concern for the entire world?

Two recent news stories suggest that we might be nearing the precipice of that shift.

The Canadian Press reviewed the climate commitments made by Big Five banks last year, finding that while the big banks have made and reiterated pledges to reach net-zero status by 2050, they have provided few details on how they plan to get there.

Analysts say that the commitments are a sign the banks recognize "the way the wind's blowing," but the lack of details and distant timeframe suggest serious moves may still be some ways off.

That's not the case when it comes to the auto sector, which has been given a closer deadline to pull off its own rapid change.

The federal government has vowed that by 2035, all new passenger vehicles sold in Canada will be electric. Some other countries, including the United Kingdom, have set an even more ambitious target, vowing the ban the sale of new fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030.

Seeing the writing on the wall, major automakers have over the last few years vowed that their new fleets will be all-electric around the same time. Chrysler is the latest to do so, announcing last week that all of its new vehicles will be electric by 2028.

Even as these deadlines draw nearer, there are signs that some governments are ready to move to the next phase of promoting environmentally friendly transportation. In France, for example, car companies will be forced as of March 1 to include promotion of walking, cycling, public transit and other alternatives to cars in their advertising.


Nature innovation
Taking a look at stories about the environment that caught our attention this week
  • It was another week of extreme cold across much of Canada. At one point, every province and territory was at least partially covered by an advisory from Environment Canada. In addition to making it dangerous for humans to be outside for long, the cold poses problems for animals -- including birds, which lose access to some of their main food sources.
  • A major scientific expedition is heading for the so-called doomsday glacier in Antarctica known as Thwaites. For the next two months, scientists will attempt to learn exactly how it is collapsing and what that will mean for the rest of the planet. Two robotic ships will aid the excursion, including the famed-for-its-name Boaty McBoatface.
  • New research suggests that traffic pollution could be responsible for inducing asthma in 1.8 million children worldwide per year. Unlike some effects of pollution, this appears to be disproportionately affecting higher-income areas, such as major U.S. cities -- perhaps because of higher concentrations of car owners. For more new science related to traffic pollution, read on to this week's Riskin Report.
An in-depth look at an important climate issue

Here's a question you may never have pondered: Could the world run out of sand?

A key component in everything from glass to electronics to toothpaste, sand is the third-most-exploited natural resource in the world, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

An estimated 50 billion tonnes of sand are used worldwide each year -- far more than replenishes onto our beaches. Sand mining has caused riverbeds to drop and entire islands to disappear.

Canada is not among the world's largest users of sand -- that list includes the likes of China and the United Arab Emirates -- but it does still play a significant role in sand consumption, accounting for nearly one-eighth of the world's sand imports.

Mette Bendixen, an assistant professor at McGill University in Montreal, told that sand mining is one of the least-regulated forms of resource extraction in the world, and that a lack of data makes it difficult to grasp the full scale of the problem.

Bendixen was part of an international team of researchers who reported last summer that despite the emergence of some alternatives to sand, the idea of sand sustainability remains a far-off dream.

There are a couple glimmers of optimism. The Swiss capital of Zurich, for example, uses 98 per cent recycled concrete for its building, and the Dutch capital of Amsterdam aims to have a fully circular economy by 2050.

For now, though, all signs point to a collective global shrug when it comes to one of our most heavily-used natural resources.


Dan Riskin
CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin shares his exclusive insights


It's easy to get bogged down in the latest doom-and-gloom headlines about the climate crisis.

It's worth remembering, though, that the world has in some ways made progress against some of the worst consequences of what we're doing to the planet.

For example, even though cars are bigger and more plentiful than ever before, the number of lives lost annualy in the United States due to car-related pollution actually decreased by nearly 30 per cent from 2008 to 2017.

How did that happen? CTV News Science and Technology Specialist Dan Riskin has the details in this week's Riskin Report.


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