Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Ever since the beginning of COVID, shortages have been a way of life. That first emptying of the grocery stores was a shock to us all. It was months before the stores filled back up.
But as soon as things were back to normal, a new wave of shortages began, this one caused largely by shipping problems. As of this writing, we have yet to see the end of that string of shortages.
If that wasn’t bad enough, gasoline prices going up. There are a variety of reasons for this. Some of it is due to government spending, some of it is due to supply chain problems, and some of it is due to the war in Ukraine. Some experts are saying that it’s going to go higher still.
The unseen side of this is that diesel prices have gone up even more. While it varies from state to state, diesel is running an average of $1.10 more per gallon than gasoline is. That’s about $2.40 more per gallon than truckers were paying a year ago, and it’s the highest recorded average price.
Seeing as over-the-road trucks have two fuel tanks, each of which holds 120 to 150 gallons, truckers could be paying over $1,500 per fill-up.
What makes that even worse (if possible) is that 91.5% of the trucking companies in the US operate 6 or fewer trucks; 97.4% of them operate less than 20. These are small companies we’re talking about, so they don’t have a lot of cash reserves.
Unless truckers are able to charge enough to cover their costs, especially all those small businesses, they’re going to have to shut down their trucks in a matter of days.
But it may not be the truckers who make the decision to shut off their trucks, as the worldwide shortage of diesel is even worse than that of other petroleum products. Diesel is critical to all kinds of industrial engines, from the tractors that farmers use to grow our food to the ships that ply their commerce upon the open seas.
Trucks are just one more category of user that are suffering from those shortages. Right now, that’s driving prices up, but it could quickly turn into there not being fuel to even keep the trucks on the road. It’s not like there are non-essential uses of diesel fuel that can be shut off to alleviate the shortage.
Some people may think that’s no big deal; but it is. Literally everything we depend on is moved by trucks, carrying raw materials and parts to factories, then carrying finished goods to warehouses, and finally carrying the products to the retail stores where we buy them.
Both UPS and FedEx have been working on moving their respective fleets of vehicles away from traditional fuel sources to hybrid, natural gas, and more renewable fuel sources. But don’t think that’s going to save the day.
The more that our nation’s fleet of 2 million trucks fall short of moving necessary goods, the more pressure that will be put on UPS and FedEx. Their combined fleets don’t quite make a tenth of the semis, and their average truck size is much smaller.
So, what’s going to happen when the truckers are forced to park their trucks, waiting for fuel?
The first day that the trucks stop, nobody will notice. The roads will be clearer and people won’t be complaining about not being able to see around the semis. But in reality, few people will even notice.
Shortages won’t actually show up, although the groundwork for them will already be laid. By the next morning, local deliveries will be off, leaving empty spaces on grocery store shelves.
It won’t take long for shortages to start showing up in our local grocery stores. The first shelves to go empty will be the fresh foods. Supermarkets receive shipments of fresh foods of all kinds on a daily basis. Milk, eggs, meat, bread, fish and produce all arrive at their docks early in the morning, giving the workers time to stock the shelves before the store fills up.
Most of those shipments won’t arrive this morning. Even Frito-Lay makes daily deliveries to all their retail outlets; but not this day, unless they’ve got their own stash of diesel fuel.
If things are bad enough, trucks from the gas companies won’t be able to make deliveries of gasoline and diesel to our local gas stations, although it would seem that they would take care of their own trucks first.
Still, the typical gas station receives deliveries of fuel every day, so by the end of this day, we can expect them to start putting out signs saying “Out of Fuel.”
People will see what is happening and start scrambling. We’ve all lived through the COVID-induced shortages in our stores, so people will be rushing to stock up while they can. It is quite possible that our grocery stores will be largely wiped out by the end of the day.
Grocery stores only stock about three days’ worth of food; so even without a run on the stores, those grocery stores are going to be running dry. Even things that never sell out, like flour and condiments, will be running short as people buy whatever they can.
The shortages will start spreading out from there to other stores. As people begin to realize the seriousness of the situation, they’ll start hitting hardware stores, sporting goods stores, and liquor stores; basically, anyplace which has anything that might help them survive.
Camping gear, firearms, fishing gear, and ammunition will all be popular purchases. Not all choices will be that logical though. Even so, the sheer mass of purchases will pretty much ensure that anything useful is cleared off the shelves.
Some retail businesses will start shutting down, as they reach a point where their inventory is too low to meet their customers’ needs. Staying open would be risky for those businesses, even with the inventory they still have, because of angry customers getting out of hand.
Manufacturers and wholesalers will be shutting the doors as well, as they can’t get materials in and out the door without shipping. Retail businesses in some areas will be broken into, with people looting whatever they can find.
Some people will think they’re smarter than others and “beating the system” by ordering online, instead of filling the stores. Those people will be shocked to find that the items they were accustomed to having delivered in a day or two are going to take a week to 10 days.
They’ll be even more shocked when most of those items never arrive.
After a Week
Within a week, the country will largely shut down as a large percentage of businesses will have closed, even if it is only intended to be temporarily. Shortages will be widespread, even to the point where Amazon doesn’t have inventory to ship out anymore.
The big issue at this point is that many people will be running out of food in their homes. Most will be out of gas too, making it more or less impossible to go out looking for more, other than locally.
Tensions will rise and people will be looking for a way to let the government know about their concerns. Local demonstrations will form in front of government buildings, with some turning violent.
Relief organizations such as the Red Cross will be rolling out, setting up soup kitchens to feed those who don’t have food. Those kitchens probably won’t last long though, as every one of those non-profit organizations depends on the same supply system that won’t be getting food to the grocery stores.
People who are already living on the edge of lawlessness will begin to look for ways to get what they need, whether through home invasions, kidnapping for profit, or other means. Police will be hard-pressed to keep up with the increase in crime.
After a Month
By the time a month has passed, shortages of food will be driving people to starvation. While some local neighborhoods and communities will come together, in many cases the people trying to organize those efforts will be people who don’t have food either, so they may try to forcibly take food from people who do have it; not only preppers, but farmers as well.
It takes longer than a month to starve to death, so that won’t quite be happening yet, although people will be debilitated by the lack of nourishment. Many overweight people will lose weight, which is a good thing; but at the same time, they will lose strength, as their body cannibalizes muscle tissue for the protein needed to make new cells.
The people who will suffer the most are those who are on prescription medicines for chronic conditions. The first massive die-off will be of people who need medications to regulate their body. Most will have a month or less of those medications on-hand, so we can expect to see them starting to die off at about this time.
That will soon be followed by people starting to die of starvation. Hopefully, the trucks will never be down for that long, but it’s certainly possible. Right now, Sri Lanka is in a state of collapse with all the gas pumps empty.