Without fuel, the world as we know it stops.

Without food, our bodies wither. Without electricity, our machines fail. And without gasoline, our cars are as useful as canoes in Death Valley. With only a few exceptions, Americans are wholly dependent on that fossil fuel for their transportation. The fear of having no gas — tanks empty, pumps dry — is real.

That fear has bubbled up in sporadic locales throughout the South following the rupture of the Colonial Pipeline in Shelby County. Much of the gas distributed to stations in the Southeast and the Eastern Seaboard travels through that pipeline, which was shut down on Sept. 9. The small bouts of no-gas panic among drivers in the South have been caused as much by shortage fears rather than honest-to-goodness scarcity.

This mild case of hysteria illustrates how cognizant we are about our reliance on this natural resource pumped out of the earth.

Sustainability is inherent to human survival. We can’t go without food. However we get our electricity — be it from coal, natural gas, petroleum, nuclear, solar, wind — it powers almost every aspect of our lives. And empty tanks slow commerce, tourism and productivity.

Today’s examples of alternative fuel sources, such as solar-powered houses and electric cars, aren’t ready to become mainstream. Politics and business interests get in the way. But the fact that a single pipeline break in Alabama could have such a detrimental effect shows how important it is to speed the develop of alternative sources.