Granted, the past year and change have been tough on almost all of us. Global pandemics have a way of leaving a mark. This is my first, and there are many indelible memories, good and bad.
As I watched north Georgia and much of the southeast over-react last week to a spot fuel shortage, largely driven by consumer behavior and hoarding, it struck me that our society as it exists today, probably would not survive the multiple challenges and difficulties of the Second World War, or the rationing and shared community sacrifices of the Great Depression.
Both of my parents are of the Greatest Generation and survived that Depression. My mother was a toddler when her parents split, she was then an only child. When a second marriage brought a younger sibling, she was over-joyed, but polio was also ravaging the nation and spreading rapidly particularly among school children. Mom, just a child herself at that time, brought polio home, and the crippling disease would soon claim her only brother, not long after his third birthday. The second marriage also did not survive the death of the child.
By 1957, when polio had taken 37,000 lives so far that year, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine became available. Americans waited in lines wrapping around blocks, as public schools, gyms, and churches all became vaccination sites. The vaccine was painful, left a visible scar on many, but this illness was beaten back as a world killer, iron lungs all but disappeared, and the disease which slowly and painfully took down a former President was in part tamed by the shared sacrifice and enthusiastic mass vaccination of nearly the entire country.
When my father speaks of those challenging years, he references the rationing of gasoline, most food staples, tires and rubber and, any practical piece of hardware or electronic material, being reserved for the war effort, whether building warships, planes, bombs or relief and, medical supplies for the G.I.s.
I won’t re-state here the obvious maxims of supply and demand, but I will mention that 55 percent of the motor fuel in metro Atlanta and north Georgia is trucked in...and that although the Colonial Pipeline is critical infrastructure, it only accounts for 45 percent of our typical fuel supply.
Yes, there are critical needs for transportation, let’s start with the first responders and truckers stepping in for the pipeline, and we shouldn’t need to declare a state of emergency for a temporary pipeline shutdown, when the region also holds a near 30-day supply on-hand, if you include the winter-fuel mix which typically goes into reserve in early spring and until the next late fall.
And though there were mean Internet memes aplenty, there were also real people filling 30-gallon barrels in the backs of their trucks and container, after container, after container, in broad daylight, often on camera, until some consumers and retailers began to limit purchase amounts.
So as the next few days worn on, broad fuel shortages became 60+ percent of north Georgia gas stations soon without fuel. Georgia’s Governor froze sales tax collection on motor fuels and our State Agriculture Commissioner released the winter mix fuel for sale from storage, as numerous public officials urged simply...buy only what you need, please don’t hoard or price gouge and normalcy should return to the marketplace in a manner of days (which it did).
When the next Big Hack occurs, and it will, or another Hurricane Katrina wipes out significant oil refining capacity (as it did), could we all just give a moment to pause and realize that we are all in fact more or less in this together. A spot gasoline shortage should not cause an instant shift to the behavior of The Walking Dead or Mad Max. Can’t we at least start from the more civilized position of, ...’ women and children first.’
As we have watched political leaders, in both major parties, play politics on occasion with this pandemic, and a news media becoming more interested in reporting its own leanings and biases than simply unvarnished facts, it becomes harder and harder to know who and what to trust.
But I still think the majority of us know simple right from wrong, and it’s RIGHT to look out for and assist one and other, particularly in times of crisis and in situations which they did not cause. Yes, we must take care of our own, but that does not mean excluding, hoarding, or taking well more than we need to be safe. Thank God, again, my Mom raised me right. After you ma’am.
Cox Media Group