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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nôtre Monde Est Hélium

Our Friend, The Helium Atom

"Our world is helium."

I think it is a good metaphor for life in the Two-One-C (21st century).

I have known for a while that helium is pretty rare on our world; we reached Peak Helium about 100 million years ago, at least, according to the logic of "Peak".
So I wonder every time I see party balloons floating by.

Read the following:

The Problem With (Affordable) Helium
There are dozens of reasons that things can become unavailable before they ever "run out." It is a favorite ploy among cornucopians (mostly economists) to accuse those warning of resource shortages of saying that some particular resource, say oil, is running out. But that is not what they are saying at all. Rather, the realists, as I call them, are simply pointing out that a number of factors are coming together than may raise the cost of obtaining such resources beyond the means of many to afford them.

The rich will pay whatever price is necessary for their food and energy. These are small percentages of their income even if food and energy costs double, triple or go up 10 times. But such is not the case for the vast majority of humans on the planet. At some price, food becomes unaffordable, gasoline becomes unaffordable, and even drinkable water become unaffordable.


The only course then is to raise the price of helium to a level where much leaner resources of helium could profitably be extracted from natural gas reservoirs, prices high enough to justify huge capital outlays. Keep in mind that separating helium from natural gas requires temperatures of -315 degrees F.

As prices rise to make these more-costly-to-get helium resources available, who will be priced out of the market? Right now, it turns out, people who want helium for party balloons are willing to pay the most. It's a small part of the market, but it shows that the distribution of helium in a higher cost world might not turn out to be what most of us would think is socially desirable. Many research labs might not be able to afford as much. Other critical uses in medicine and computer chip manufacture might be curtailed or result in considerably higher costs for medical diagnosis and electronic equipment.

All this is to demonstrate that a resource does not have to "run out" in order for it to become unavailable to large numbers of people. There are plenty of molecules of helium in the Earth. But the cost of getting them out for all who want to use them, even for critically important purposes, might be too high for many to bear...

Right now this is a good metaphor for our time; it is like Helium is a mime running around portraying us to ourselves.

Soon it will not be metaphor.


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