We're running out of sand and Campione d'Italia is a ghost town

Two stories from the last week mixed together in my mind for a “what if” idea.

Sand is finite, and we might run out

The first story is the one told by the excellent podcast 99% Invisible in their episode on sand. It sounds like a headline in The Onion, but it’s not completely overblown – we’re running out of good, easily available sand. And sand makes concrete.

A few key takeaways:

  • We’re adding the equivalent of eight New York Cities worth of buildings to the world every single year. Most of them are made out of concrete.
  • Easily available sand to make concrete is becoming scarce. The same thing that has happened with oil (fracking, offshore drilling) is now happening with sand - we’re digging deeper and deeper to get it and doing more and more damage and using more and more energy.
  • Our most efficient way to reduce the “embodied carbon” footprint of buildings is to use them for longer before we allow them to fall apart or tear them down.
  • Also, some very cool things like mass timber (possibly enabling wooden (!) skyscrapers with a negative carbon footprint) are on the horizon to offer alternatives to concrete.

There is a 55,000 square meter abandoned casino in Italy


Once a ludicrously wealthy tax-haven, this town of 2000 people was completely supported by a single enormous casino. An enormous palace of gambling was built in 2007. Today, it’s closed and gathering dust. And Campione has already turned into a ghost town, as the school and stores have closed. Now, there is a 55,000 square meter palace in the middle of nowhere on the border between Switzerland and Italy. I can’t imagine any massive companies standing in line to move their headquarters to very flashy building far away from everything.

It becomes evident that one of the most positive environmental actions one could undertake right now would be to find out what to do with this building and this town.

Is this an interesting topic for Climate KIC and the Edgeryders climate unit?
@alberto, @ilaria, @noemi (and throwing in @matteo_uguzzoni because what a location for a game!)

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