Does Peak Helium Mean We Should Stop With The Big Balloons Already?

Jere Keys/ Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Helium is important stuff; it is needed for superconductors and scientific research. 28% of the American supply is used to supercool magnets in MRI machines. We are also not making any more of it; most comes from the strategic reserve, developed when the Military imagined a fleet of zeppelins and now being sold off at ridiculously low prices. (Brian noted that if helium was properly priced, a party balloon would cost $150)

In Slate, Miriam Krule and Noam Prywes suggest that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and others like it, are a huge waste of helium and perhaps should be stopped.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade isn’t exactly the biggest problem facing helium, but it’s the most visible way to understand an element that is inert, invisible, and lighter than air. The 16 parade balloons require about 300,000 cubic feet of helium combined. Assuming a drugstore balloon is 1 cubic foot (that’s being a bit generous) that’s 18,750 drugstore balloons for each parade one. The parade has experimented with recycling helium from some of the smaller balloons, and a Macy’s spokesperson says that they are inflating balloons with combinations of helium and air to cut down on helium use. But Macy’s says, “the technology is currently not there yet to reclaim the gas in a meaningful way.”

So enjoy Spider-Man flying down Sixth Avenue, or the Elf on the Shelf bouncing down Central Park West quietly judging you and your children. 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.

Tags: Conservation | Peak Oil

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