We all know what Thanksgiving is about: good food, friends and family, feeling grateful for the blessings in our lives, and gigantic balloons of cartoon characters. Because when it turns out that some of your relatives voted for Romney and you’re feeling too full and too tipsy too early in the day, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a welcome distraction.

Well, enjoy it while it lasts, because it’s quite possible that sooner rather than later we’ll either have completely run out of helium to fill those beautiful balloons, or we’ll have realized that it’s probably more responsible to use the helium we have left for life-saving technologies. Slate explains:

While its best-known use may be filling balloons and making people who inhale it squeak like Mickey Mouse, [helium]’s scientific uses are arguably more valuable. No other gas is as light without being combustible. Those properties, as well as its very low boiling point and high thermal conductivity, make it indispensable for aerospace engineering, deep-sea diving, and cryogenics. So, while a world with no more balloons is a sad specter, without liquefied helium we wouldn’t be able to make superconducting magnets like those in MRIs.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The longevity of the helium supply, like the longevity of the oil supply, is subject to some debate, but suffice it to say: In a couple decades, no one’s going to be using it to make their voices sound funny, unless they’re really rich and mean. And the Macy’s parade will have to find another way to drift gigantic, hyper-commercialized, trademarked characters down the streets of New York. Maybe the drone army we’ll have built by then can carry them.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.