Modern society is literally built on sand. Most of our buildings and bridges are made with concrete, which consists mostly of sand and gravel. The same is true for the asphalt that covers our roads and parking lots. Glass, from window panes to eyeglass lenses to smartphone screens, is made by melting sand, and the semiconductors in our electronics come from heating silica sand ... After air and water, sand is humankind’s most consumed natural resource.

The new reality is captured by a single, stark fact: Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight. At the same time, scientists say, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished ... The prevalence of obesity has doubled in 73 countries since 1980, contributing to four million premature deaths

The world is on track to add 700 million new ACs by 2030, and 1.6 billion by 2050, largely in hot, developing countries like India and Indonesia ... Air conditioners use refrigerants, and some of the most common types — hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — are powerful greenhouse gases, with thousands of times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. If HFC use continues to grow at its current pace, these chemicals could make up as much as 19 percent of emissions by 2050.

Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets ... Some researchers...now believe sea salt could be more vulnerable to plastic contamination because of how it is made, through a process of dehydration of sea water.

Of the country’s nearly 18 million undergraduates, more than 40 percent go to community college, and of those, only 62 percent can afford to go to college full-time ... A quarter of undergraduates are older than 25, and about the same number are single parents ... Last year, more than $41 billion was given in charity to higher education, but about a quarter of that went to just 20 institutions. Community colleges...received just a small fraction of this philanthropy.

In the study of the plant kingdom, a slow revolution is underway. Scientists are beginning to understand that plants have abilities, previously unnoticed and unimagined, that we’ve only ever associated with animals. In their own ways, plants can see, smell, feel, hear, and know where they are in the world. One recent study found that clusters of cells in plant embryos act a lot like brain cells and help the embryo to decide when to start growing.

The world’s second-biggest economy, which has vowed to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 and curb worsening air pollution, is the latest to join countries such as the U.K. and France seeking to phase out vehicles using gasoline and diesel. The looming ban on combustion-engine automobiles will goad both local and global automakers to focus on introducing more zero-emission electric cars to help clean up smog-choked major cities.

For only a few years, it has been clear that bacteria are completely dominant in a healthy human being: On top of our ten billion body cells, there are one hundred billion microbial cells that play a role in our metabolism. This enormously increases the options for our bodily processes: If we include the microbes’ genes, then we have over 100,000 genes at our disposal, as opposed to just over 20,000.

The single largest tax expenditure in the United States is for employer-based health insurance. It’s even more than the mortgage interest deduction. In 2017, this exclusion cost the federal government about $260 billion in lost income and payroll taxes. This is significantly more than the cost of the Affordable Care Act each year.

The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass ... The Dutch are also the world’s top exporter of potatoes and onions and the second largest exporter of vegetables overall in terms of value.