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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Drivers fill their gas tanks at the Speedway in East Ridge earlier this week.

"My cousin's friend has a friend whose father is a tanker truck driver, and he says they're telling him there won't be gasoline for three weeks. So we're going to fill up."

And that may be how the gasoline shortage began.

Or maybe you saw the photos on Facebook, the one with the plastic bags of gasoline filling the trunk of the car or maybe the one at the gas station of a woman filling a plastic bag full of gasoline.

If you did, you probably had two thoughts. The first was: What an idiot! Who would do something so careless and dangerous (not to mention having your car smell like gasoline for the next six months)? The second was: If people are doing this, maybe there really is a gas shortage. I better go fill up my car.

And that's how the gas shortage may have worsened.

(For the record, the two Facebook plastic bag photos were from 2019, one of them from Mexico. The global pandemic didn't invent "stupid.")

The genesis of the mini gas crisis occurred Friday, May 7, when hackers locked up computer systems for Colonial Pipeline and demanded a ransom to unlock the system. Pipeline officials shut down the pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, to contain the damage.

Less than a week later, the pipeline returned to operation, but by that time panic buying consumed the Southeast, which depends on the pipeline for more of its gasoline than other parts of the country.

By Tuesday, more than 1,000 stations across this region of the country had run out of gasoline.

You'd think we didn't remember The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga gas prices up 18 cents in week amid pipeline crisis)

Just over a year ago, when coronavirus pandemic closures began to keep more people at home, toilet paper began disappearing from shelves. People were using more of it at home, true enough. But they also were using more of the good stuff, the softer stuff, not the kind they buy for the office and other places where tissue is used.

Once the good stuff began to disappear, the other tissue was left, and people began to buy it up too, because that's all there was. Eventually, panic buying and supply-chain problems in providing more of the kind of tissue people wanted for their homes caused a shortage.

Two-person families, instead of needing about nine double rolls or five mega rolls for two weeks of staying at home (according to research by Georgia-Pacific), now had entire closets of the stuff.

And if you were one who didn't run out and panic-buy, you may have found yourself going from store to store to discount store to convenience store when you finally needed it. Don't ask us how we know.

We've all seen this before, though, haven't we?

In the South, every year or so when meteorologists predict more than a few flakes of snow, people race to the grocery store for milk and bread and other staples. How their refrigerators and cupboards are so bare they couldn't survive one day (or a couple of days if we have more than an inch or two of snow) without the particular items is hard to fathom.

Psychologists and business experts say there are real reasons for this type of behavior, though we certainly don't want to encourage more of it.

"In times of uncertainty," Adam Toal of the Business School at Durham University writes, "any factors that result in the feeling of having less control within our environment and thereby increasing the emotion of panic will have interesting consequences, particularly within consumer behavior. Instinctual cues formed through specific emotions will guide our often irrational or quite frankly odd behavior as we navigate a restricted environment and rely on our very foundational evolutionary instincts to survive."

But something else is going on here — a sense of greed, a decision the panicked buyer is making that he or she needs a particular commodity more than the next person.

We like the way Jordan Smith, an editor at the Purdue Exponent in West Lafayette, Indiana, put it in the middle of the toilet paper panic of a year ago: "The only wrong thing to do is to convince oneself that the havoc this global crisis is wreaking on your life is more significant than the consequences it's having for everyone else."

In other words, as "Pogo" cartoonist Walt Kelly once penned on a 1970 Earth Day poster (and then used in his cartoons), "we have met the enemy, and he is us."

So, that bread and milk, those extra 10 rolls of toilet paper, that last eighth of a tank of gas? Hold off. The world won't end if we just wait our turn.

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