Ban the helium balloon!
Kids today just don’t know they’re born. With Christmas lists full of electronic gadgets and expensive computer games, they will never know the joy of opening an advent calendar just to see which very small picture you got today. And the same goes with balloons- blown up balloons used to be the icing on the cake, now it’s helium or nothing. People even stand around in shopping centres and outside theatres hoping to sell you a helium balloon for several British pounds, which the little gits then forget to hold on to, and they float away into oblivion.
But that seems to be exactly where helium-filled balloons are heading, according to Dr Peter Wothers, a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a University of Cambridge chemist, who warns that we are wasting a precious resource to inflate gaudy foil shapes. And it’s not all a load of hot air.
Helium is actually a non-renewable gas – it has to be mined from inside the Earth’s crust and cannot be synthesised to make more. In 30-50 years time we might actually run out of it, meaning no more amusing squeaky voices at parties.
But so what? If we want to fritter our helium resource away on balloons so our great grandchildren don’t get to see balloons that float, so what? Well, the things is, Helium has a number of other uses in medicine. It is used to cool magnets in MRI scanners in hospitals, it is mixed with oxygen to make breathing easier for ill patients and can help save new-born babies’ lives. Future generations can probably live without balloons, but will do less well without crucial medical help.
Dr Wothers plans to bring this to the world stage at the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures later this month. “The scarcity of helium is a really serious issue. I can imagine that in 50 years time our children will be saying ‘I can’t believe they used such a precious material to fill balloons’,” he said, sadly.
So from now on, helium balloon sellers are public enemy number one, and you are perfectly within your rights to loudly denounce such people anytime your little darlings want a bloated £10 Winnie-the-Pooh. And don’t get us started on that selfish old goat from Up…
The Royal Institution’s 2012 Christmas Lectures can be seen on BBC Four on 26, 27 and 28 December. In case you're interested.