Thursday, October 09, 2008

Proving How Peak Oil Caused the Financial Crisis

Anyone who has been studying peak oil for years has known without a doubt that it is what caused this mess. Yes Bush borrowed a whole bunch of money. Yes Bush ruined the value of the dollar from all that borrowing. Yes Bush promoted an Ownership Society doctrine which overpromoted home ownership. Yes the dollar devaluation caused energy prices to rise. Yes it was this increase in energy prices that made it impossible for many homeowners to pay their mortgage. Yes there was billions of dollars of scamming and looting and predatory lending and predatory deregulation. But ultimately it was a lack of energy that brought down the house of cards. That was the root cause.

In an economic model that is based on infinite growth, it was the halt in growth that brought it down. Since this general economic model has been the same for generations, we cant just all the sudden start blaming it now! When did the growth begin to halt?

Notice that the 14 year trendline in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) was broken back in mid 2005. Here is another graph that clearly shows the divergence began before Katrina. And check this out:

This chart implies an early 2005 peak in gasoline sales. That is more than a year before the Case Schiller index peaked.

2 years before the stock market began to notice there was a problem.

It takes a lot to break a 14 year trendline in VMT.

In 2005, the financial system was moving along like a well oiled (albeit corrupt) machine, lining the pockets of rich guys around the world. Meanwhile, while the CEOs were raking in the cash, VMT was breaking a 14 year trendline. What does that tell me? It tells me that VMT, and thus oil, was a root cause. Otherwise, the trendlines would have been broken AFTER Case Schiller peaked. And AFTER the banks started having problems.

The evidence is clear: peak oil, and peak VMT, caused the financial meltdown. You can say that it was all a house of cards, but that was as true in 2004 as it was in 2006, as it was in 2008, so why did it continue until 2008? Why not break down in 2005? Because it took 3 years for peak oil to eat up enough credit and rack up enough debt to cause the financial bubbles to pop.

I know there are some incredibly obtuse people out there, and they just wont get it until you draw them a picture. So I'm going to attempt to do that. Here are 4 steps to understanding peak oil and the financial markets:

1. Our financial system is global, and it is growth based. Because it is growth based, it requires about 1.5% growth in energy supplies every year in order to keep from imploding in on itself.

2. Global Oil production peaked, or plateaued, in 2005, at about 30 billion barrels a year.

3. For 2006, the economy was expecting one and a half percent more oil than in 2005, or about 450 million barrels more. Instead, it only got the same as in 2005.

4. For 2007, the global economy again required one and a half percent more oil than in 2005. But again, in 2007, the global economy only got the same 30 billion it got in 2005. That is yet another 450 million barrels missing. Now we're up to 900 million barrels missing. Again, that is what caused the problems in 2008. Depending how you look at it, because of compound growth (30*1.015*1.015), you could even say the economy required another 450 million on top of the 900 million. That's a total of 1.35 billion barrels missing from the economy. But to be conservative let's just focus on the 900 million. How much oil is that? Well, here is a tanker:

It's a very large tanker. It holds somewhere around 3 million barrels of oil. We're missing about 300 of these from the economy. There is a 300 tanker difference between what we've gotten, and what we needed to keep growing.

This is how much extra energy the financial system needed in order for all its models to prove correct:

Peak Oil Tankerz! It is incredibly difficult to properly visualize that much oil!

Because that extra energy never arrived at the market, it caused all the financial models to be wrong. That led to huge losses. That missing oil also led to some very real supply issues that drove up prices and led to even greater losses. The paper economy is driven by the real world economy, not the other way around. And it doesnt get more real than an oil tanker. The question is, did the financial industry willfully ignore reality as tanker after tanker failed to deliver the oil needed to make their profit models work? Of course they did. And why not? That's what happens in a system that socializes the risk and privatizes the profits.

If you're still not convinced the collapsing housing bubble had anything to do with energy, then here's a thought experiment. Imagine if the price of homes kept rising. Instead of leveling off in 2006, they just kept going up. People kept getting home equity loans, refinancing, buying bigger homes, buying more cars, etc etc. What would have happened? The prices of food and energy would have gone up even more. They would have kept going up until people started to not be able to afford the energy they need to maintain their lifestyle. Then the demand for new homes would have fallen. In other words, the collapse in real estate was inevitable. Houses need energy. Cars need energy. More cars, more houses, yet only the same size pool of energy. That made a recession inevitable. During the recession is when the cars and the homes get more efficient, which allows more homes and more cars to be built. Then the recession is over. But the media ignored the energy dynamic, or downplayed it. They instead focused on words such as "subprime". By doing this, they risk turning a recession into a depression.


Blogger lupe said...

the root cause is peak oil, all right.

peak oil was the motive to stage 9/11, so peak oil has to be disguised by crashing the economy and destroying demand for oil.

meanwhile, in the resulting chaos, america can be looted like the soviet union was looted.

in september of 2000, PNAC admitted they needed a new pearl harbor... netanyahu said 9/11 was "very good". if these guys needed a new pearl harbor, if they thought 9/11 was "very good", then we have to assume they had motives to commit 9/11.

if you think back about the history of the housing bubble, you cant escape ditech ---owned by general motors. about the only thing to wonder about is: is GM, having seen the peak oil handwriting on the wall, committing suicide deliberately, or were they duped by PNAC?

...not that it makes any difference at this late date.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Cangrande said...

Interesting analysis, thank you. It might be helpful, though, for the benefit at least of some "incredibly obtuse people" or for foreigners like me, to explain the meaning of "VMT". (Guess it means "Vehicle Miles Traveled"?)

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