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Don't Make Light of Our Helium Shortage

Apr 04, 2013 02:33PM ● By Scott Blackwell

That's A Laugh columnist Ron Bates

Dear scientists,

Like most Americans, I am outraged by today’s high gas prices.

This is why I have been looking into alternative means of
transportation, such as blimp travel. Unfortunately, I have shocking news – we are running out of helium!

It’s possible you might have missed this story as I know you have been busy inventing computer glasses and Doritos-flavored taco shells.

But, sadly, it is true. According to published reports, there is a worldwide shortage of helium, a crisis which threatens to deprive us of lite beer and hilarious chipmunk songs.

Needless to say, I am terrified.

As scientists, I’m sure you share my concern. That’s why I’ve come to you for answers to some deeply troubling questions, such as:

• Since helium is colorless, odorless and invisible, how do we know that we’re out of it? For that matter, how did we find it in the first place?

I picture us randomly lowering people into holes until they start sounding like Cartman on South Park. Is that how it happens? Because if it’s not, that would be a good way.

• Also, once we find helium, what do we do with it? Just put it in those giant storage-tanks? I could be wrong but it seems to me that maybe that’s the problem – is it possible some of those tanks are floating away?

Before you answer, keep in mind that during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade the only thing that keeps a 50-foot Garfield from leaving our atmosphere is that we tie it to a cub scout troop. All I’m saying is you should ask around and see if anyone has seen any large, round, metal objects hovering silently in the sky. I’d start near Roswell. Call it a hunch.

But here’s the question that has me waking up nights in a cold sweat – what if helium is the only thing that’s keeping Earth floating along peacefully in outer space?

I’ve thought about this a lot.

Basically, Earth is a huge, pear-shaped rock, right? Once you drain out the helium, what’s to keep us from plunging to the bottom of the universe? Surely I’m not the only one who’s worried about this. I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen, I’m just saying it’s a well-known fact that gravity is constantly trying to kill us.

Do we really want to throw away what could very well be our last line of defense?

These are questions that need to be answered before we inflate another birthday balloon. Because once Planet Earth runs out of helium, where are we going to get our gas? And don’t say from Uranus! I know it would be funny and this would be the perfect time to say it, but I won’t have my mood lightened. Not until I can lighten it with helium!

As you can tell, this has been weighing on my mind for some time and I wanted to turn it over to the people who saved us from Y2K and analog TV. Please come up with a solution so I can go back to worrying about asteroids and the coming robot apocalypse.

Your friend in science,


– Ron Bates is a freelance writer and editor who regularly provides glimpses into the funny and so-sad-they’re-funny aspects of his life. His youth novel, How to Make Friends and Monsters, is set to be published by Zondervan later this year.