Apparently, the world is running out of helium. Robert Richardson, a Nobel Prizewinner, believes that helium supplies will run out in 25 years. And since no other substance has a lower boiling point than helium, this could be a problem.
I guess we're wasting helium by throwing it into birthday balloons because Richardson thinks that "helium is far too cheap and is not treated as a precious resource." And he's right, when you inhale something for the sole purpose of talking in a funny voice, you're not exactly treating it as a precious resource. Helium, because of its low boiling point, also makes for a great cooling source and is used to manufacture fibre optics and LCDs. So it's actually kind of important
And it looks like the biggest culprit in the depletion of helium is the US (the world's biggest supplier of helium). The US government has been selling helium at cut-rate costs and plans to sell off half of the Earth's helium stock by 2015. That's sort of soon. So what does Robert Richardson suggest we do? He says:
[The US should]get out of the business and let the free market prevail. The consequence will be a rise in prices. Unfortunately, party balloons will be $US100 each rather than $US3 but we'll have to live with that. We will have to live with those prices eventually anyway.