February 1, 2013
Helium shortage leads to fewer houses in sky
A global helium shortage that scientists say could be irreversible has affected flying houses piloted by cranky senior citizens, balloon boy hoaxes and obnoxious party voices.
Helium is a colorless, odorless, non-toxic inert gas, with the lowest boiling and melting points of any element on the periodic table. Despite being the second most common element, helium is finite and a non-renewable resource. Some scientists predict supplies could be depleted by 2050.
"Helium is cheap and that drives its misuse," said University of Tennessee chemist Daniel Brado. "A staggering seven percent of the world's helium supply is currently used to lift suburban houses off their foundations to search for the legendary Paradise Falls. For God's sake, just take a helicopter."
The current crisis stems from several factors, including a drop in natural gas prices, a scarcity of helium plants and the incessant need of birthday party-goers to make their voices sound funny.
"People are scrambling right now," said Gerald Louhimies, a Donald Duck impersonator who has had to learn to contort his voice without the aid of the noble gases. "I like to imitate Walt Disney's waterfowl on Market Square. The kids love it. But they aren't buying my new voice. Kids can spot a phony a mile away. And when you tell them there's a helium shortage, they just kick you in the shins."
Scientists say helium may need to be rationed in order to preserve it to construct medical scanners and, more importantly, to satisfy the nation's constant need to upgrade its iPhones. Both products are manufactured using helium.
Others say they really need helium to perpetuate media hoaxes involving helium balloons and six-year-old children.
"There is a finite supply of helium on the planet," said prankster Bill Macaulay. "If we keep using this valuable element on non-essential things like space travel and cooling nuclear reactors, then I'm not going to be able to convince the media that children are floating away into the atmosphere. That will be a serious problem 30 years from now."
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