In was some time before 2000 that I sat in a giant bar on the outskirts of Sao Paulo listening to my friend Paulo carry-on about why the giant city was "really Italian" and why that was a good thing. He waxed mournfully about the loss of the colonial sector and assured me that had the city governors been true Italians they’d have preserved those fine, old homes and taken pictures of them and placed them on postcards.

What happened to the colonial sector? I asked Paulo. "Oh…just gone." he said, waving his left hand like a broom while motioning for a beer with his right. "You know," he continued, "this bar - The Penguin - has six kilometers of copper tubing built into it. And the beer you’re drinking has passed through every centimeter!"

Did you say six kilometers? I asked in surprise. "Sixteen!" he replied, his finger now on his chin. "And there’s no bar in the country or in Mato Grosso or in this hemisphere that has more copper! Those colonial homes probably had copper wiring in them. We use copper in Brazil!" he confirmed seriously. "We know how to use it best!"

I thought about this three nights later when I was nearly electrocuted taking a shower in my Alphaville condominium. And I’ve thought about it since…copper, that is.

My late grandmother, a native Louisianan of Alsatian ancestry once gave me the harmonious news that my great-great grandfather cooked with "good copp-uh" and "that cooking was ideal cooking!" She also told me, somewhat less harmoniously, that the contaminated strawberry scare in 1995 was "a government conspiracy!" And ordered me post haste to the nearest supermarket for a double basket. I trusted my grandmother.

It was late in the evening on a dirty remote road in central Chile that my brother-in-law parked his smallish Chevy sedan and walked me to the edge the roadway, looking down on the eerie glow of some kind of gigantic copper leeching pond a kilometer in the distance. "Under your feet," he said, it’s flowing." What? I asked. "The copper fragments. They reach speeds of two-hundred miles per hour in that underground tube," he said proudly. "That’s the fastest vacuum-generated mineral flow in the world!"

And I find that we have barely a sixty-year supply of copper, if the venerable New Scientist is your source of information. If you use the Copper Development Agency’s figures then we have a nearly limitless supply based on current extraction rates.

If you ask my contracting next-door neighbor you’ll promptly get, "somewhere in the middle of those two."

An engineer friend of mine in Chuquicamata states, "too much copper! Copper! Copper! Copper! We don’t dig as much as years ago. But we got copper from here to China!"

"Don’t kid yourself!" says the coin guy in downtown San Marco, Texas. "There’s not as much copper in coins anymore. There’s not that much left on the market."

"Why are you worried?" asks a friend of mine who works where you smelt things. "You just recycle the stuff!"

"That’s why they steal it!" says an electrician I know. "There’s not as much out there as there used to be."

"You’ll know when copper dries-up," says my brother-in-law. "All those eucalyptus trees down there will just fall over! Oh, you didn’t know eucalyptus trees need buckets of copper to stay alive? Look at them! See the way they wind down the hill? They’re following copper veins!"

"I hope it doesn’t run out!" says the nurse-wife of a friend. "We use it all over the hospital. Kills all kinds of bad stuff!"

Then it hits me. My brother-in-law mentioned "eucalyptus". Don’t Koala bears eat eucalyptus? Isn’t that all they eat! What happens if copper does run out? Does that mean Koala bears run out?

And so I say, I should go long on the best, fastest, depleted, limitless, germ-killing, beer-shooting, particle zooming, electricity-conducting, aiguillette-frying metal in the world. And I can do with fifty years to spare before the Army of the Night tears through my grandson’s home to make off with his ice-maker hose.

Or, maybe I should just call my broker and say, "I short Koala bears!"


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