UPDATED: see below
A few days ago I did a report on the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) numbers for carbon dioxide emissions, showing that it was clearly down, and back to levels not seen since 1994, and noting that since Kyoto in 1997, U.S. emissions have dropped even though Kyoto was never ratified in the USA.
If you thought that was troubling and strange have a look at these numbers which also indicate the state of the U.S. Economy. First, the number of miles driven monthly for the last 30 years. As you can see, just like global temperature has flatlined, so has the number of miles driven.
Source data: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/M12MTVUSM227NFWA
Now the amount of gasoline sold. Note the regular seasonal “heartbeat” pattern up to about 2008, then that pattern gives way to a precipitous drop at the end.
Source data: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist_xls/A103600001m.xls
If that doesn’t paint a grim picture of the U.S. economy, I don’t know what will.
…but the biggest question we have is just how did the biggest boost in energy and engine efficiency occurred at two key junctions: Just after the Lehman Failure, and just after the US downgrade and the first debt ceiling crisis, when the total sales of gasoline by US retailers literally went off the charts, and which data series is now languishing at levels not seen since the 1970s (unfortunately we can only estimate: not even the EIA’s data set goes back that far).
Perhaps, just perhaps, Occam’s razor applies in this situation as well, and the collapse in energy demand in the US has little to do with MPG efficiency, higher productivity, and throughput mysteriously achieved just when the entire economy was imploding in the months after the Lehman failure, and despite the re-emerging proliferation of cheap Fed debt funded SUVs and small trucks, and everything to do with the US consumer being slowly but surely tapped out?
Of course, if that is the case, than the US economy is far, far weaker than even we could have surmised, although it certainly would explain the desperation with which the Fed is doing everything in its power to preserve the levitation of the S&P, i.e., the confidence that all is well despite all signs to the contrary. Because should the market finally be allowed to reflect the underlying economy – not the administration represented economy, but the real one – then everything that has transpired in the past five years will be child’s play compared to what’s coming.
I wonder if that brilliant economist of the NYT, Paul Krugman, can pull the wool out of his eyes long enough to comprehend this?
h/t to Kate at Small Dead Animals for getting me interested in this enough to plot the data myself to see if it was true.
UPDATE: I added this is response to comments about the number of miles not dropping as fast. “jeez” points out that miles driven are an estimate from surveys.
If people are driving less miles, we have less consumption, and that would mean excess supply and lower prices. Lower prices should then result in more people driving more, sort of a self correcting feedback.
Instead what we have is a 50% drop in retail sales of gasoline during a period of reduced driving.
That says to me that many people have just stopped buying gas. Consider that 90 million people are now out of the workforce. Look at this graph and that helps explain part of what we are seeing.
UPDATE: Correction. From this comment, I agree, the Zerohedge article focus on retail sales is misleading, see new plot I did below. I’m not privy to the vagaries of gasoline supply/sales channels, and had I been, this would have raised more suspicions. Thanks to WUWT readers for the peer review! – Anthony
As a few others have mentioned, the bug is in “retail sales by refiners.” There has of course been wholesale in the past to off-brand distributers (i.e. 7-11 selling gasoline that they sure don’t refine) compared to Exxon selling Exxon refined gasoline. At those drop-off points what likely happened is that fewer people were willing to spend a few extra pennies stopping at Exxon, and now buy their gas at Wal-Mart or Kroger when they do their grocery shopping.
The fact that
both align with the CO2 and other data (like total petroleum consumption) makes it much more reasonable to think there has been a ~10% decline in gasoline purchases than a 50% decline. Otherwise we would have to ask how we cut 25% of our Carbon use (petroleum is ~1/2 of our carbon use, and a 50% decline in that would be a total of 25% of all carbon) while only decreasing carbon emissions by ~10%.
(Note: To test this I plotted the EIA data below from here: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist_xls/MGFUPUS1m.xls – Anthony)
A 10% decline would then be appropriately explained by 4% decline in labor, increases in fuel efficiency, and smaller factors like online shopping (remember, somebody still drives it to your house – and usually they leave a large truck idiling while they walk the package up and have you sign). A 10% drop is still a huge amount of gas, but it is not the same as a total societal collapse that a 50% drop in 4 years would indicate.
I assume this was probably an honest mistake, but since it has been pointed out several times I think the most honest thing to do is change the data set and correct the article.