Concrete is the most widely used substance made by man, but its dangers to our culture, to human health, and our planet ⎼ shade its benefits.
Second only to water, concrete is the most used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be just behind China and the US as the third-largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world.
Because of the natural chemical processes involved in making cement, the key component of concrete, and the heat needed to decompose rock ⎼ every metric ton of concrete produced releases one metric ton of C02, the main greenhouse warming gas.
Almost 10% of all industrial water use is for concrete with 75% of the consumption occurring in water-stressed regions.
In urban areas, concrete absorbs the warmth of the sun adding to a city’s “heat-island effect” while trapping gases from car exhausts and air-conditioner units ⎼ a little better at least than darker asphalt.(1)
Health problems arise with silicosis and other respiratory diseases. Delhi, India is choked by dust from wind-blown stocks and mixers that contribute as much as 10% of coarse particulate matter. According to researchers in 2015 measuring the air pollution index, the 19 biggest construction sites exceeded safe levels by at least three times.(2)
Limestone quarries and cement factories are also often pollution sources, along with the trucks that ferry materials between them and building sites.(3) At this scale, even the acquisition of sand can be catastrophic – destroying so many of the world’s beaches and river courses (4) that this form of mining is now increasingly run by organised crime gangs (5) and associated with murderous violence.(6)
Universally, development and the use of concrete has become synonymous. How we use and reuse concrete in light of its environmental impacts call for rethinking. Its massive footprint in our modern environment, the industry nor governments have been willing to address.
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