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.

In 1970, people first used more environmental resources than the world could produce. The gap between demand and nature’s ability to meet that demand has grown steadily since then. Each year we live in ecological deficit–taking more than can be replenished–we draw down the world’s reserves of natural resources. Ensuring we don’t use up the world’s resources is a global effort, though some countries use up more resources than others.

if the consumption of natural capital were to be taken into account correctly, then a proportion of the growth in world GDP would disappear (the annual extraction of natural resources is close to the world growth in GDP, or roughly 3% per annum at the moment and tends to rise over time, depending on how this is valued)

Over the past 130 years, changes in land use and management practices have allowed juniper woodlands to expand their geographic range tenfold, profoundly altering the ecosystems they infiltrate. Today, land managers in Oregon and several other western states are struggling to regain some control over invading junipers even as they strive to protect the remaining old-growth stands not far away. Both native and invasive, the western juniper is a living contradiction.

There are somewhere around 40 million acres of lawn in the lower 48 ... American lawns take up three times as much space as irrigated corn ... Turf grasses, occupying 1.9% of the surface of the continental United States, would be the single largest irrigated crop in the country ... Delaware is 10 percent lawn. Connecticut and Rhode Island are 20 percent. And over 20 percent of the total land area of Massachusetts and New Jersey is covered in grass,

Glencore has for decades carefully guarded its privacy while building one of the greatest—and, some would say, quite notorious—natural-resources operations that the world has ever seen ... And the breadth of its reach is perhaps unsurpassed by any other company ... the commodities that Glencore mines and moves now touch virtually every facet of our hyperwired lives ... its fleet of 700 vessels (mostly chartered) outnumbered the U.S. Navy’s.

Last summer, it was hard to miss news about California’s drought ... In 2007, there was a drought that didn’t garner quite the same national attention: Atlanta, Georgia was in a state of exceptional drought from September to December and came within a few months of running out of water. A large American metropolitan area running out of water almost certainly would have required driving in massive trucks of water every day just so that people could wash their hands, drink, and use the bathroom.

At current rates of consumption, the world’s current known reserves will run out sometime between 2030 and 2040. This is why the Tanzania discovery is such a big deal ... Nobody has ever found helium by looking for it deliberately... The Tanzanian site, however, was found through modern prospecting ... The 54 billion cubic feet is a current best estimate of what might be recoverable... Even if we get all that out of the Tanzanian mine, it would only extend global supplies seven more years.

China and Indonesia are the first- and second-largest fish-catching countries in the world ... dwindling fish stocks in other parts of the Pacific are driving Chinese fishermen — with plenty of government encouragement and financial assistance — deeper into foreign waters ... China believes that it has “historic rights” to all the waters in the South China Sea, whether for fishing or oil and gas drilling, though there is no such concept in international law.

Question: Can we hope to preserve, in the midst of modern America, any such remnant of our continent’s primordial landscape, any such sample of true wildness—a gloriously inhospitable place, full of predators and prey, in which nature is still allowed to be red in tooth and claw? Can that sort of place be reconciled with human demands and human convenience? Time alone, and our choices, will tell. But if the answer is yes, the answer is Yellowstone.