1. EMP – one nuclear bomb, detonated high in the ionosphere, can ruin your whole decade. Most of the U.S. could be without power for a very long time. Computers and anything using computer components would be burned out. It’s hard to say just how extensive the damage would be. Most cars would probably be inoperable. Cell phones may or may not be burned out, but the cell towers definitely would be dead. Radio, TV, cable, internet, would all shut down for a very long time. The infrastructure that supports modern communications took many decades to build up, and it would take just as long to rebuild.
Once we lose power, communications, and most transportation, there’s no way to grow food but by manual labor. I’m not sure if irrigation systems would work. But the commercial system which provides seed, fertilizer, and other resources would collapse. Money would probably be next to worthless, and most businesses would be instantly bankrupt. The end result of all this chaos would be famine.
2. Fuel Shortage – Remember the gasoline shortages of the 1970′s? OPEC placed an oil embargo on the U.S. due to our support for Israel in the Yom Kippur war. Prices went way up, and supply went way down. Well, there are lots of other ways that an oil and gas shortage could occur. War in the Middle East would do it. Or some political dispute leading to another embargo. Another trigger for a fuel shortage could be economics. If one of the major oil companies had an economic meltdown, similar to the banking crisis a few years back, the production and distribution of oil and gasoline could be disrupted.
And once you have a fuel shortage, prices for everything rises because fuel is needed to ship goods. As for agriculture, fuel is needed to plant and harvest crops, as well as to ship them. And often a food crop is shipped many times, from one company to another, again and again, until it finally makes it to your table. The longer the supply chain for producing and distributing food, the higher the prices go, when fuel is expensive.
Dramatically higher prices for food would then lead to violent protests, food thefts and robberies, and the collapse of many businesses needed in the food supply chain. This would affect availability as well as price.
3. Economic Collapse – Lots of problems could cause economic collapse. Our economy is a house of cards built on top of a set of dominos, in the back of a pickup truck, with very old shock absorbers, driving along a bumpy dirt road. Okay, slight exaggeration. But really, a lot of different issues could collapse the economy, including a collapse of the economy of a foreign nation. When the economy of Greece almost collapsed a few years back, there were economic shock waves across Europe and in the U.S. The worldwide economy is all connected, like a malicious Rube Goldberg device.
Economic collapse is one of the more likely triggers for a famine. Once the economy fails, farmers don’t have money for fertilizer or seed or fuel or laborers. Companies involved in every step of the production and distribution system will go out of business. Fertile fields will lie untilled and unplanted. All the parts needed to grow food will still exist. But it takes money to move those parts around and put them into action.
4. Panic Buying – This trigger for famine is mostly psychological. Some disaster gives people the idea that there might be a food shortage. And whether that idea is true or not, they rush to the markets and buy up all the food. Then the grocery stores can’t replenish the supply fast enough. This causes economic problems for companies in the food supply system, and many then go out of business, further disrupting the food supply.
Our current food economy is “just in time”. Most people have only a week’s worth of their most-used food items, especially fresh foods. Then maybe they have about a month’s supply of non-perishables. A good prepper has at least 3 or 4 month’s supply of food. But most people are not preppers. Not even close. The supply system just can’t produce food fast enough, if everyone suddenly decides they need three months’ worth of food.
The other problem is that panic buying results in people buying too much of some foods and not enough of other foods. So they have a quantity of food, but not the right types. They might buy lots of carbs and little or no dietary fat. They might buy lots of perishable foods, like meat and dairy, and then have no way to store them or use them before they perish. Panic buying does not make the best use of the available food supply.
5. Fertilizer Shortage – Crop yields continue to rise, year after year. We are growing more food on less land than ever before. How? Higher planting densities, which means more plants per acre of land. And that high plant population per acre is obtained by increasing the amounts of fertilizer and irrigation. If either one fails, we won’t have enough land to feed our population anymore, because yields per acre will plummet.
There are only a few large companies that supply most of the fertilizer to commercial farms. If even one of those companies fails, or if civil unrest, economic crisis, or something else disrupts the supply of fertilizer, crop yields will collapse.
6. Water Shortage – a large percentage of U.S. crops are heavily irrigated, mainly from aquifers deep underground. Those aquifers are being drained much faster than nature can replenish them. The drought in California is over, isn’t it? But the aquifers in that State are still losing water faster than the rain can replenish them. It’s a drought continuing deep underground. And its occurring all over the Midwest as well as on the West Coast. Eventually, there won’t be enough water to maintain the high yields, and U.S. agriculture will collapse.
All of the above scenarios are what-ifs. They may or may not happen, depending on circumstances. Except the water shortage. That’s not a matter of if, but when. We are draining water from the underground aquifers so fast that it would take decades to refill the aquifers, and that’s assuming all deep wells used for irrigation cease. But that’s just not the way the food economy works. We literally cannot feed our population on the amount of existing agricultural land without heavy irrigation and fertilizer. And the push to grow even more food on even less land continues. Sooner or later, something has to give.