'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 up to 2.8 billion tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.'
THE Guardian, 2019
Today, China uses almost half the world’s concrete, the Chinese have poured more concrete in the previous five years than the American's have in the entire history of their country.
I covered China in 2012 while on assignment for the Australian Climate Institute, it was one of the assignments I took on under their Creative Fellowship. At that time I recall thinking with mild alarm just how massively the Chinese were altering their landscape while also thinking that as long as this was confined only to China the rest of the world need not be overly concerned. Fast forward some seven years and China's Belt and Road Initiative challenges this perception. China is now expanding its territories fundamentally changing much of the world we live in. One of the most overt displays of this rapid and unflinching change is in the Cambodian seaside town of Sihanoukville.
Up until a year or two ago, Sihanoukville was a relatively sleepy seaside town, a favourite holiday spot for local Khmer. It was also a necessary through point for backpackers on their way to a collection of small, beautiful islands a little way off the coast with a lure of white sandy beaches and inexpensive bungalow accommodation.
Since I was there last, five or so years ago, the town is almost unrecognizable. To date 30 casinos have been built, another 74 are planned. Hotels, condominiums, shopping malls at scale are under construction. Restaurants, banks, pawnshops, duty-free stores, supermarkets- all display signs in Chinese. They are now all Chinese owned and operated. A special economic zone in the form of a massive industrial park housing over 100 Chinese owned factories is now operational. There is a target of opening 200 additional factories with plans to house over 300,000 workers. In the past year alone an estimated 127,000 Chinese construction workers have flooded into town outnumbering the local population. A record number of 17,000 Chinese tourists visited in May 2019.
Throughout town, there was an acrid smell of cement and the drone of jackhammers, pile drivers and grinders. A few memories of my time there no doubt will linger- the heavily congested and broken roads, the waterways turned toxic and filled with garbage, the endless procession of overly tired and frustrated construction workers, and numerous conversations with locals, some now hopelessly displaced, angry and saddened for the loss of their town.
I could have photographed any number of these aspects, and some I did I edited these images out in favour of a specific theme. A symphony on concrete of sorts. A testament of how I wish the world not to be.
Guardian online recently published a series of in-depth articles on concrete, it makes for fascinating reading.