We might run out of these elements

You know to conserve water and trees, but what about calcium and bismuth?

a graph showing elements
Abstracted Infographic by Sara Chodosh

We can easily imagine running out of resources like water, wood, and oil, but it’s harder to fathom draining our stocks of chemical building blocks like calcium, iron, and bismuth. Modern life relies on certain squares of the periodic table to do things like strengthen steel and add nutrients to fertilizer, so such losses would cause real problems. We’re unlikely to deplete the ­universe—or even our own little planet—of any particular element in its entirety, but we don’t have to literally go dry for serious supply issues to arise. Some materials, such as bromine, come only from places on Earth that might not always be accessible. Others, like sulfur, emerge mostly as byproducts from oil drilling and other processes that soon might cease.

The wheel above shows some of the ways that select elements power and enrich our lives, how we get hold of them, and how ready we should be to live without.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2019 Make It Last issue of Popular Science.

Sara Chodosh

Sara Chodoshis an associate editor at PopSci where she writes about everything from vaccine hesitancy to extreme animal sex. She got her master's degree in science journalism at NYU's Science Health and Environmental Reporting Program, and is getting a second master's in data visualization from the University of Girona. Contact the author here.