We Are Running Low on More Than Patience – WIF Shortages

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Unexpected Things

the World is

Running Low On

We’re typically pretty terrible to our world. We tear through resources like a hungry kid devouring a bag of M&Ms. It’s bad enough when we do it knowingly, like with oil shortages that tend to – no pun intended – fuel wars. We’ve helped multiple animal species trudge ahead toward extinction, because that patch of forest would make a great place for a Cheesecake Factory, condors be damned.

But there are some resources that we take for granted, and keep using even when places around the world are running low on supplies. Things like…

10. Helium


Helium makes our balloons float up, and can reduce even the mighty voice of Morgan Freeman to a ridiculous high-pitched squeak. We use this lighter-than air gas so indiscriminately that it’s hard to believe that the world is facing a helium shortage. The universe has a huge supply of Helium, but here on Earth the supply is quickly nearing its limits.

Helium is extracted from the ground, where it’s created from uranium and thorium decay. That’s right, the gas you just inhaled into your lungs because it’s funny is a byproduct of radioactive decay. The decay process of Uranium is incredibly slow – the Helium stockpile we’ve almost exhausted has taken the Earth’s entire lifespan to form.

The problem is so bad that two years ago, US Congress signed the snappily named “Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act.” This Act aims to keep the shortage of Helium in check so it can continue breaking new ground in medicine. What, did you think it’s only good for making your voice sound funny?

9. Coffee


Your morning cup o’ joe may soon cost even more than Starbucks rates thanks to droughts and diseases plaguing Brazillian and Central American coffee beans. The impending coffee shortage has been looming over our heads since last year, when Brazil experienced a season of extreme drought and Central America saw an outbreak of the devastating “leaf rust” disease.

Luckily, a surplus from previous years carried suppliers through the tough season, but the demand is still exceeding the supply and rising prices reflect that.

And things may only get worse. Areas that produce a huge chunk of your coffee are continuing to experience erratic rainfall and record high temperatures, and if the climate change continues at the same rate, anywhere between 70% and 99.7% of our Arabica coffee – that’s the “good” stuff – might be gone by 2080. Less popular beans aren’t in quite as much danger, but they’re affected too. Better stock up now.

8. Chocolate


Another beloved every-day treat that’s experiencing ups and downs is chocolate, and you can chalk this one up to climate change as well. In 2014, global cocoa harvests plummeted thanks to dry spells and an assortment of diseases and pests that wipe out an annual average of 30-40% of the world’s cocoa production.

The thing is, even as the world’s chocolate supply dries up the demand is huge and still rising. Chocolate isn’t just a sweet treat that makes you fat, it’s also now thought to have health benefits, like strengthening your heart. This is especially true for dark chocolate, which needs the most cocoa to make.

For now, this doesn’t mean we’re running out of chocolate, but the shortages are leading to increased chocolate prices from major chocolate companies like Hershey. That means that one day in the future, chocolate might be an expensive luxury, so you’d better savor every bit of that dark chocolate bar you bought because you’re crossing your fingers it’s legitimately “healthy.”

7. Medicine


While the previous shortages were caused by lack of resources, the shortages of medicine can be blamed instead on human nature. The global pharmaceutical industry is worth over $300 billion, a third of which is owned by just 10 giant companies who drive prices up, and smaller companies out of business. A disconnected industry means lack of communication among manufacturers, pharmacists, and physicians. As a result, medicine is in short supply all over the world. The problem got so bad in Venezuela that the government has introduced a fingerprinting requirement at pharmacies to essentially ration out medicine.

In the US, antibiotics are feeling the brunt of the shortage, which spells trouble for anyone who needs these medicines to treat pathogens resistant to other treatments. Between 2001 and 2013, 148 different kinds of antibiotics experienced shortages. The FDA is doing its best “within its legal authority” to keep doctors informed so you don’t get a prescription for something that, say, no longer exists.

The US is also taking a hint from Canada by imposing mandatory reporting of shortages by pharmaceuticals. This won’t stop the shortages, but it will at least alert doctors and prompt them to offer alternate treatments.

6. Lethal Injection Drugs


Texas isn’t shy about using the death penalty, putting 524 inmates to death since 1976, so it’s almost kind of poetic that the state is running out of the lethal injection drug. As of this spring, Texas only had enough penobarbital for two more executions, and was scrambling to get more for the four scheduled deaths in April.

The problem isn’t with the drug, but with the pharmarcists: one by one, leading pharmacists like Akron and Roche, and pharmacist associations like the IACP and APhA are adopting policies to stop providing lethal injection drugs.

Texas isn’t the only state affected by the issue, and without a steady supply, states are being forced to get more creative in their method of execution. Utah is bringing back the firing squad, while Oklahoma is turning to Nitrogen gas as an alternative. Meanwhile, Nebraska is going down the route the pharmaceuticals were probably hoping for, and considering completely eliminating the death penalty.

5. Blood


Up until the 1990s, the Chinese blood market was thriving and largely unregulated. Without the government’s intervention, donating blood meant subjecting yourself to poor bloodletting practices, often performed without clean needles. Thanks to this, China was facing a potential HIV epidemic.

With over 800,000 Chinese testing positive for HIV by 1997, the government finally intervened and cracked down on the sale of blood. The new regulations put down stricter policies for donating blood, and outlawed the sale of blood altogether. But the new rules also led to a different kind of problem: a blood shortage so bad it’s been dramatically labeled a “blood famine.”

To encourage people to donate blood instead of selling it illegally, many hospitals now require patients (or their friends or relatives) to have donated blood in the past. On the flip side, Chinese law limits blood donations to twice a year, and only if you’re even eligible to do so. This means that if you’re in need of blood transfusions but aren’t eligible to donate blood, you’re in trouble. The policy has led to the rise of a blood black market. Called “blood heads,” some people donate blood then offer the proof of donation to those who need it – for a price, of course.

4. Doctors / Surgeons


The United States is experiencing a doctor shortage, and you may already be feeling it if you live in the more rural areas of the US. A report written by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2025 the US will be short 50,000 to 90,000 physicians.

If you think you can rely on WebMD self-diagnosis, you’d better be ready to operate on yourself, too, because the shortage covers just about every kind of doctor from your family physician or dentist, to surgeons and oncologists.

The shortage is being caused by a number of factors, including a growing population, and increasing rates of certain health problems like cancer. Training future doctors is also a problem due to a congressional cap on residency programs – although the government is working on increasing the number of residency slots by 15,000 over the next five years.

3. Bricks


About five years ago as the world was facing an economic crisis, the United Kingdom housing market collapsed. This lead to a huge surplus of unsold bricks – about 1.2 billion, to be exact – and the eventual shutting down of brick factories across the country. To put it simply: the UK is running low on bricks.

British builders currently have to delay productions by nearly four months as they wait to get their hands on the kiln-fired clay bricks that they need to build new houses. Some have turned to imported bricks, which is only exacerbating the housing problem by adding cost and delays to production.

This shortage comes at a time when the British government has promised to build over 500,000 new homes per year in an effort to bring down sky-rocketing house prices. It’s proving difficult to build houses without house-building materials, and as a couple little pigs taught us, straw and sticks just won’t do the trick.

2. Water


How can we be running out of something that covers over 71% of the earth? When you consider that 96% of the earth’s water is of the salt variety, it’s not too surprising that we’re drowning in water but still have nothing to drink. As you’ve probably figured out from the chocolate and coffee shortage, dry spells are also getting increasingly common – drying up the tiny percentage of freshwater supply we have. Just take a look at what’s happening in California right now.

And the Golden State isn’t alone. According to the Government Accountability Office, even if we have “average” conditions in the next decade practically every state in the US will experience local, regional, or even statewide water shortages.

This isn’t a problem limited to the US, either. The UN says that water shortages are already affecting every single continent, and nearly 1.2 billion people around the world don’t have access to water. Another 1.6 billion – that’s a quarter of the world’s population – live in places too poor to afford water supply systems. By 2025, about two thirds of the world may be living with little to no water.

1. High Quality Bourbon


If the last entry made you want to reach for some good old bourbon, you’re out of luck.

Straight Bourbon takes about two to four years to mature. Good bourbon takes closer to 20. That involves a whole lot of foresight on behalf of distilleries, and unfortunately, 20 years ago bourbon just wasn’t very popular. According to the president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, “In the ’70s and ’80s bourbon was your father’s drink, or worse, your grandfather’s drink.” Fearing a shortage, most of the best bourbon was bought up by people who could afford it, ironically causing that shortage.

Suddenly in recent years, bourbon became cool to drink again, thanks at least in part to shows like Mad Men. Demand for whiskey and bourbon has increased almost 70% in the last decade, making the best of the spirit pretty scarce.

Don’t worry though – you can still get plenty of the younger, cheaper stuff, and distilleries are constantly coming up with ways to speed up the process from years to days. But if you want the really good stuff, you’d better have deep pockets, or maybe a time machine.

Running Low on More Than Patience

WIF Shortages

Dwindling Resources from WIF

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10 Resources

We’re Running Out Of

Like it or not, resources are finite. If we don’t use them carefully, we’ll run out. But while we’ve all heard the scary stories about peak oil, we’re guessing you had no idea that we’re running the risk of hitting peak banana.

10. Bananas


Latin America is the largest cultivator of bananas in the world, with the area being responsible for around 70% of world production. That makes for a $8.9 billion a year industry. Humans have been growing bananas for at least 10,000 years, and they’re an important part of the everyday diet for countless people. They’re rich in magnesium, potassium and vitamins C and B6, making them themost consumed fruit in many countries.

The bananas we’re accustomed to, the Cavendish species, is the only type grown on a large scale. It’s a monoculture, meaning that every banana tree is one and the same and all bananas in every supermarket are basically clones of each other. Recently, a banana fungus known as Tropical Race 4 began attacking banana trees, inhibiting their ability to extract nutrients from the soil. This fungus can’t be killed by any current fungicides and can easily move from place to place by sticking to boots, clothing, tools and even water. It’s spread to Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and appears to have hit Latin America as well.

The only way to stop this plight is to quarantine and destroy the infected plants. Otherwise the Cavendish will be all but wiped out, forcing us to replace it with one of the other 1200 banana species out there. These other breeds look and taste different, but maybe that’s something we’ll have to adjust to.

9. New Music


The Gracenote database holds 130 million songs from around the world. If we were to listen to them all day and night, it would take us 1200 years. That’s not even close to what all the possible combinations of tones put together can add up to, and we can safely say that new music will be created as long as humans exist.

But humans have a relatively small capacity to hear sounds — our range is between 20 and 20,000 Hz. Together with the fact that we have a preference for only particular notes and have a tendency to borrow and remix songs and tones from the past, the number we’re talking about drops significantly. The exact date when all possible combinations of sounds capable of forming new and enjoyable music will be reached is unknown and likely far in the future, but we have to keep in mind that someday it will come to an end.

8. Wine


As temperatures keep rising, predictions show that large areas where grapes are currently grown will be unsuitable by 2050. Vineyards need cold winters and hot, dry summers, and places like Bordeaux, Rhone, Tuscany, Chile, Argentina, Southeast Europe and Napa Valley will no longer be able to do so. Even the vineyards in Southern Africa and Australia will suffer tremendously, with simulations showing a 70-75% drop in production over the next several decades. We’ve already see the effects of climate change on wine production, with a 4% drop in 2014.

These famous wine countries won’t be completely unable to produce, but tremendous expenses in irrigation and other special adjustments will need to be made in order for them to continue production. Fortunately, other areas will become perfect for wine production, such as Germany, the Netherlands or even England and Yellowstone Park. Central China and Tasmania could also do well in the near future. But most of these areas are either cultivated with something else or are wild. Moving the wine industry would be extremely costly, and could threaten animals like the panda with extinction.

7. Helium


Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe. It’s also among the lightest. That means the helium that’s here on our planet escapes the atmosphere on a regular basis.

Besides being a source of fun at kid’s parties, helium is also used for welding, as a super coolant for MRI machines, in the Large Hadron Collider, in diving and in growing silicon crystals, among other important uses. The reason we don’t notice the scarcity of the gas is because the United States National Helium Reserve, which houses around one billion cubic meters of the stuff, was mandated back in 1966 to sell all helium at extremely low prices until 2015.

Now that the reserve is almost up, we’ll most likely see a steep rise in helium prices because now we have to make our own. To do so, we need to tap into natural gas production, since 7% of it is helium. Qatar finished building a facilityin 2013 which is capable of producing 60 million cubic meters, making it the second largest producer after the US.

6. Honey Bees


Bees have been around for some 74 to 146 million years, before the continents even drifted apart. Their appearance seems to coincide with the evolution of the first flowering plants. Currently there are several species, but the most common and most useful to us is the  European Honeybee. This species was domesticated as early as 1000 BC in Egypt, and has since been transported to every continent for their delicious honey and useful wax.

Today these little insects are under threat by a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which has wiped out 36% of hives in the US alone. The causes behind this plight are varied and not completely understood. Scientists believe that mites, infectious agents, weather patterns, electromagnetic radiation, pesticides, poor nutrition and stress are the main factors, as well as the Israeli acute paralysis virus. CCD was first documented in 2006, and no viable solution has been found yet. And even if you think you could live without honey and wax, bees pollinate over one third of the world’s food supply. Without them, plants can’t grow and reproduce.

5. Medical Isotopes


Utilized in detecting bone cancer and brain and kidney diseases, medical isotopes are used by over 70,000 people every day. They make use of a radioactive tracer called technetium-99m which is made inside research nuclear reactors. Back in 2009, two of these reactors shut down for repairs since they’re over half a century old.

This flung the medical community into a panic, and many professionals had to resort to older and less reliant techniques for treatment which involve exposing patients to high doses of radiation. There’s no stored supply of the isotope, because it only has a 12 hour lifespan. Nevertheless, it’s used in over 80% of all medical imaging worldwide.

What’s even more disturbing is that the Canadian Chalk River reactor, which produces more than a third of the world’s Tc-99, will permanently shut down in 2016, leaving a gap in the isotope supply chain that no one can fill anytime soon. Some North American companies are looking into the problem and seem to have come up with a way of producing Tc-99 without the need of nuclear reactors. But the miles of red tape they have to get past, together with the fact that it will take them years before any viable production will begin, will leave countless people without a reliable diagnosis.

4. Caviar


We all know that caviar is a luxury food — a spoonful can cost as much as a full meal. Caviar is made from the eggs of the beluga sturgeon, native to the Caspian and the Black Sea. It can live for more than 100 years, and can weigh up to two metric tons. They’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs, but recently it’s  been classified as critically endangered because of overfishing and loss of habitat.

The United States imports over 80% of the world’s caviar, which is worth around $100 million per year, but the black market is believed to be 10 times larger. An import ban has been put in place in both the US and EU to conserve and regenerate the population of sturgeons. This has led to prices skyrocketing from $2000 per kilogram to a whopping $10,000. This steep rise has made the black market explode, and not even a 10 year suspension of activities from countries producing caviar — Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Russia — has been able to properly stop it.

3. Sardines


While we’re on the subject of dwindling marine life, here’s another fish that will soon disappear from supermarket shelves. This is due to overfishing and thecooling of the North Pacific waters since the 1990s. Sardines love slightly warmer waters, and a sudden shift in temperature can have dire consequences on the marine ecosystem.

This phenomenon wasn’t a surprise, as scientists has been warning it could happen. Nevertheless, heavy fishing continued, and in 2013 fishing nets of the Pacific coast of Canada came up empty. This happened before in the 1940s when the waters cooled and the sardine population dropped, but now that there are more fishing boats their population will take even longer to replenish, if they ever do.

What’s even more troublesome is that because of size-selective fishing, the average size of many fish species has dropped to about half of what they used to be in the 1970s. Laws and regulations were put in place to preserve younger fish, while the bigger ones were up for grabs. Since only smaller fish were left in the oceans, their offspring were also smaller. That’s one well-intended law that backfired.

2. Antibiotics


Antibiotics aren’t disappearing, but they are becoming obsolete. Like every living thing on Earth, bacteria are constantly evolving to better cope with outside forces. That’s why over 23,000 people die each year in the US alone from antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.

This is a natural event, but one that was greatly accelerated by the overuse of antibiotics for simple cases sore throats and virus related illnesses which can’t be cured with antibiotics. We also take on antibiotics when we eat most kinds of meat.

To make matters worse, pharmaceutical companies have found that investing in antibiotic related development is no longer worthwhile financially, and are diverting investments into chronic illness drugs that can be used over the long term. The situation looks so overwhelming that some have proposed the money come from the military budget, since this situation may soon become a matter of national defense.

1. Sand


Coming back home from the beach with sand all over your swimwear could soon be a thing of the past, since there will be no more beaches to go to. Because of rising sea levels and increased storm activity, not to mention massive erosion caused by human shore line development, somewhere between 70 to 90 percent of the world’s beaches are disappearing.

This phenomenon isn’t visible to those of us living inland who only visit the seaside in the summer, but people closer to beaches can attest that sand is brought in by the truckload every season to fill in the gaps. You might think that using desert sand would be a great solution since it just sits there doing nothing, but that type of sand is much finer than beach sand and will simply be blown away by the wind. That’s why Dubai replenishes its beaches every year with sand shipped all the way from Australia.

In Africa and Asia, beaches are stripped bare by people collecting sand for construction sites. People go to the seaside not to sunbathe and swim, but to gather what sand is left, sometimes risking their lives for a few buckets of sand while the tides pull at their feet and waves crash overhead. So maybe next summer just take the family to the local pool instead.

Dwindling Resources from WIF