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The Extinction Of Elements

gallium test

Doctors use gallium to detect inflammation in the lungs. National Institutes of Health hide caption

itoggle caption National Institutes of Health

This one's for BPP editor Tricia McKinney, who right now is editing an interview she did with her aunt for tomorrow's show, and who thus may not know that the world is dangerously close to running out of the element gallium.

Planet Earth is also short on indium. And hafnium. And zinc. And, as Tricia has told us so many times, copper. Here's Robert Silverberg, writing in Asimov's Science Fiction about a looming reality:

I was taught long ago that the ninety-two elements found in nature are the essential building blocks of the universe. Take one away — or three, or six — and won't the essential structure of things suffer a potent blow? Somehow I feel that there's a powerful difference between running out of oil, or killing off all the dodos, and having elements go extinct.

We can blame the loss of gallium on our hunger for flat-screen TVs and computer monitors — the element goes into liquid-crystal displays.

(With thanks to Andrew Sullivan.)

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This might be one reason we'll have to expand our exploration of space. Our manifest destiny for rare-earth metals.

Sent by nick g | 9:09 AM | 7-9-2008

Many of the rare metals like this are now found in more abundance in landfills than any other source on the planet.

Pretty soon we'll be mining the dumps for things we should have conserved and reused long ago if humans weren't so short-sighted and stupid. Hubbert's peak applies to a lot of things.

Sent by Leigh Cutler | 9:14 AM | 7-9-2008

Just goes to show that an emphasis should be placed on improving the waste management industry.

It reminds me of Agent Smith's analogy of a vrius and the human race.

Sent by Patrick | 7:39 AM | 7-10-2008