Let's Stop Wasting Precious Helium on Giant Balloons

Our supply is dwindling, and helium matters
By Liam Carnahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 22, 2012 9:27 AM CST
Let's Stop Wasting Precious Helium on Giant Balloons
FILE - This Nov. 26, 2009 file photo shows the Pikachu Pokemon balloon floating down Central Park West during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.    (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, file)

This story may leave you feeling a bit deflated. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a waste of the world's dwindling helium supply, argue Miriam Krule and Noam Prywes for Slate, and it may be time to put a pin in the balloons. Earth's supply of 1.87 trillion cubic feet could be exhausted in as soon as 40 years, and helium actually really matters: It doesn't burn, is lighter than air, is essential in creating the magnets used in MRI machines, and key to scientists working in aerospace engineering and cryogenics.

There are many reasons why the largest helium reserve, which is still stored in underground caverns in Texas, could run out this century. Largely to blame is a 1996 act of Congress that set artificially low helium prices. On top of that, technology to create synthetic helium or extract it from the atmosphere is either non-existent, extremely expensive, or impractical, and it's unlikely that new methods will come about any time soon. The parade's 16 balloons eat up about 300,000 cubic feet of helium each year, and Krule and Prywes tell us to go ahead and enjoy those balloons. "Remember them years from now, as the helium supply diminishes and demand continues to grow, raising prices and leaving us with defunct MRI machines and deflated balloons." Click for the full column. (Read more helium balloons stories.)

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