After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on the planet. But its benefits mask enormous dangers to the planet, to human health – and to culture itself
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the global building industry will have poured more than 19,000 bathtubs of concrete. By the time you are halfway through this article, the volume would fill the Albert Hall and spill out into Hyde Park. In a day it would be almost the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In a single year, there is enough to patio over every hill, dale, nook and cranny in England.
After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with around 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.
Our species is addicted to concrete. We use more of it than anything else except water. Like that other manmade wonder material, plastic, concrete transformed construction and advanced human health. But, as with plastic, we are only now waking up to its dangers.