The looming helium crisis.

We all agree that Sandy was nasty bit of weather. It was kind of like Katrina with rich people. And who can argue that the Tsunami that hit Japan was a heck of a price to pay for some spectacular stock footage.

ES14But the worst natural disasters pale in comparison to a pending crisis that will make shelves emptied of bottled water and Spam seem not such a big deal after all. The terrible truth is that we are rapidly running out of helium; a non-renewable and essential ingredient of everything from party balloons to MRI scanners.

Imagine a world without helium.

A hundred million Superbowl fans search the skies and the TV screen for the Goodyear blimp. A hold on the Keystone XL pipeline continues not out of common sense and concern for the planet, but as the result of there being no inert gas for welding the sections of the sucker together. Turning off the torches has also halted the production of tankers destined to carry oil to beaches around the world. Even worse, those wanting to talk in high-pitched voices are forced to consider surgical alternatives.

Of course, in terms of much of what helium does, hydrogen is a better bet and also in plentiful and renewable supply. Hydrogen is a lot lighter than helium. It will take fewer weather balloons to get your lawn chair airborne. And hydrogen has ‘clean energy’ written all over it. Still, hydrogen gets a bad rap, mainly because of the Hindenburg.

‘Oh, the humanity.’

Some claim that it wasn’t hydrogen that brought the Zeppelin down. Instead, they say, it was the volatile paints that coated the skin and the frame inside. A static spark and the rest is grainy black and white history. Whatever. Hydrogen fans point out that a mix of helium and hydrogen can reduce the possibility of a fire to insignificant, and relieve the pressure on our dwindling supply of laughing gas. This hybrid could inflate an airship with lots of helium left over to fill balloons enough to close a dozen Republican National Conventions.

If we must face a future without helium, we should in the meantime ration its use well. Let’s admit that the strongest weld is no match for a child’s smile when it comes to joining things and people together. And that a grown man talking nonsense like a duck holds more truth than a politician spouting well-rehearsed lies in a sexy baritone.

Now. Inhale deeply.

12 years ago

1 Comment

  1. The first to feel the effects will be NASA, who will not be able to launch hydrogen-fueled rockets to anywhere because only helium can pressurize the fuel tanks.
    The Navy will not be able to weld aluminum.
    MRI machines in hospitals and clinics everywhere will have to shut down.
    Big scientific research facilities employing thousands (like CERN and Fermilab) won’t be able to turn on their super-strong magnets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *