Why does driving too much make you poorer?

This is one of those analyses that I started with a firm opinion: I thought I knew where it was going. And then it went somewhere else and ended in a bit of a mystery. Details of my puzzlement below the fold.

The graph to the right shows Gross State Product/Capita (source: BEA, 2003) plotted versus Vehicle Miles Traveled/Capita (source: FHWA, 2003 table VM-2) for 48 of the 50 US states. Click the graph to enlarge it.

For some time, I've been exploring the very strong relationship between GDP and total vehicle miles driven. In the US, they appear to grow in near lockstep, but even in Europe, there is a pretty strong relationship. Presumably growing the economy involves adding more and bigger houses, stores, offices, etc to the edge of town, which increases the need to drive more (though the exactness of the relationship is still a mystery).

However, tonight I wanted to take up a different theme. I have a somewhat contrarian stance on the idea, popular in certain parts of the peak oil community, that it's a good idea in the face of peak oil to move to the back of beyond and start trying to live off the land. My idea, prejudice, hypothesis, whatever we want to call it, was that rural economies produce less wealth but need to drive further, and therefore will suffer particularly hard as oil becomes less available.

So I decided to investigate this more carefully. It's hard to clearly delineate rural communities from urban in all the statistical series I needed, but what is generally available is state-by-state statistics (in the US). I figured that ought to be good enough for a first cut - we should be able to see how very urban states differ from very rural states.

So I got VMT statistics from the FHWA, 2003 table VM-2, gross state product statistics for 2003 from the Bureau of Economic Affairs, and population statistics from the Census Bureau, but the Wikipedia helpfully tabulates the states in the 2000 census in terms of Population, and also Population Density.

The first graph I produced was wealth created per capita (as measured by Gross State Product/capita) versus vehicle miles driven/capita:

Gross State Product/Capita (source: BEA, 2003) plotted versus Vehicle Miles Traveled/Capita (source: FHWA, 2003 table VM-2) for all US states. Click to enlarge.

Well, two states are clearly messing up the picture. I decided that we should sell Wyoming to Canada to pay down some of the national debt, and tow Delaware down to the Carribean to save most of our corporations the trouble of reincorporating themselves offshore.

There's probably a reasonable case for considering Delaware as a removable outlier due to it's special status as the headquarters of so many of our large corporations. However, I can't think of any good excuse for excluding Wyoming other than that it's having way too much influence on the trend for a state of small population and moderate area.

Anyway, after the dirty work is done:

Gross State Product/Capita (source: BEA, 2003) plotted versus Vehicle Miles Traveled/Capita (source: FHWA, 2003 table VM-2) for all US states except Delaware and Wyoming. Click to enlarge.

Prejudice confirmed, right? There appears to be a reasonably strong inverse relationship between states where people drive a lot, and states where people generate a lot of wealth. The technical criteria is the R2, which says that 42% of the variation in GSP/capita is explained by the inverse relationship with VMT/capita. It's not the only thing going on (58% of the variation remains to be explained by other things), but it's quite a big chunk of what's going on.

Well, not so fast.

When I delved into population density, to check that it really is rural/urban that explains this, it got more complicated. Here's vehicle miles driven/capita as a function of population density.

Vehicle Miles Traveled/Capita (source: FHWA, 2003 table VM-2) plotted against Population Density (source: US Census Bureau 2000 via Wikipedia) for all US states. Click to enlarge.

There is some trend for states of low population density to drive more, but it's not that strong (R2 of 22%). And then here's wealth created as a function of population density.

Gross State Product/Capita (source: BEA, 2003) plotted against Population Density (source: US Census Bureau 2000 via Wikipedia) for all US states. Click to enlarge.

This isn't that strong either. It's somewhat true that low population density states create less wealth/capita, but it's a weak relationship (R2 of 19%).

So while my initial hypothesis isn't exactly wrong---the correlations do run the way I expected---they aren't as strong as I expected. And, more interestingly, it looks like there must be some other linkage between driving a lot and producing less wealth. It doesn't seem to be just having low population density. I would like to know what that linkage is.

In particular, its intriguing that growing the economy appears to require driving more, and yet places that drive a lot produce less wealth per capita. It suggests something that I explored quite a bit back when I was looking at the lockstep relationship between GDP and VMT - I wonder if growing the edge of town is one of the harder things the economy has to do to grow, and so it has something to do with setting the rate of economic growth.

In areas such as the suburbs outlying the city, is significant infrastructure built to support the driving habit? It would be interesting to see what the correlation is between GDP growth and vehicle "support industry."
This would further prove (if the correlation exists and is positive), that we are indeed borrowing GDP growth from Mother Nature in the form of cheap gas. The scales have to balance eventually.
"The scales have to balance eventually."

This is a common, but usually wrong, way to think about things.

We have oil in the ground because the dinosaurs failed to develop a biofuel program. We are using the energy that the dinosaurs (and the rest of their ecosystem) didn't use.

Obviously, oil is finite. And we're running out of ability to increase production capacity. But where, in these statements, are the quantities that must be balanced? Where is the repayment that must be made?

Obviously, we should conserve, and we're being pretty stupid in not developing alternatives to fossil fuels. But that is not the kind of apples-to-apples comparison that you can weigh on scales.

The idea that everything is zero-sum, and anything that seems beneficial must be repaid, is--in many contexts--wrong. If you don't look at the whole system, you can't say that the system is closed or zero-sum. Our entire earth is not a closed system, thanks to the sun.

We may well overshoot and crash, but that will be more of a karmic debt than a physical debt. As long as the sun is shining, there is no law of nature that says we have to run out of energy. Imagine how much better our prospects would be if, instead of spending $200 billion on the Iraq war, we had awarded two hundred billion-dollar prizes for half-million BOEPD reductions in fossil energy use.


Perhaps commenting on our predicament in such a fashion is becoming a knee-jerk response, but we are a long way from becoming very efficient at using solar energy. Yes, the earth is not a closed system because of the inputs it receives from the sun, but at our current rate of energy demand growth, that allowance is becoming insignificant. $200 billion for solar research in the US? Heck, I'm willing to do research on it for  a few thousand, but with that kind of money, we could get every other university student to get on the playing field. More realistically, how about a "X-prize" for Solar? Set a goal of so many kW per cm2 and $10 million to the first prototype that qualifies.
How is the population density figure derived for each state?

If it is just the total population of the state divided by the total area of the state, then that may not tell you much. A large state may have most of it's population clustered in urban areas?

These days, I would say that the proportion of people living on the land is quite small and has gone down quite drastically in the last 50 years. Modern intensive farming techniques require fewer people to produce the same amount of produce (or even more).

I know that here in New Zealand, a lot of the population has migrated into big centres, while the rural areas have declined and sometimes even 'died'.

I agree with DuncaK. I find it too simplistic to take the population density as a measure of how urban or how rural a state is.

I think that a better measure would be to compare the population density of a state with the population density of its conties (the Census Bureau gives a very convenient xls file with all the different populations and densities). See what the variance is for each state. This will give you a measure to see if the distribution of the population is uniform (rural) or is non-uniform (urban). It looks like a fun exercise. It would be nice to complement your analysis with this information. But, unfortunately I am very busy today.

The Census Bureau also gives a nice picture:

So your idea is that this would allow us to compute the average density that the average resident experiencies, rather than the average density of the average square mile of the state? I think that's an interesting and worthwhile exercise. However, we still have plenty of states with hardly any urban centers of consequence, and plenty with hardly anything else, and lots in between, so I would expect to to see the right general kinds of relationships.
County population density works well in the Eastern half of the US where counties are small and uniform in size.

In the west counties are larger (huge in fact).  Some of those large counties house huge cities (Los Angeles) and unihabited mountainous stretches that dilute down the urban density figures.

Some counties house million + cities and yet are over half uninhabited.  You dont get this in the east.

I've always thought that transportation = business, but distance (VMT) might not be the best determinant (and it might not matter if it is mass transit or automobile). I think your trends would be much better if you were able to separate urban, suburban and rural areas. It's not just density too, how they are organized really matters. Some parts of New York City have the density suburbs and people drive a lot. On the other hand, many towns in upstate NY are decidedly rural, but they have a nearby town that can service all their needs instead of a Walmart 75 miles away.
Since GDP and related measures are concerned with transactions period rather than whether they reflect services efficiently delivered (eg, mass transit versus the private auto), the wasteful places should - all things being equal - have more robust results. On the other hand, believers in agglomeration economies and smart governance would likely not be surprised (indeed, they'd be thrilled) to see some correlation between lots of driving and lower economic output. Putting infrastructure (roads, sewers, etc) out to distant and lower-density suburbs costs more and thus perhaps detracts from more productive public investment. Moreover, when people are driving out to suburbs, they're not downtown exchanging ideas, consuming services, and otherwise helping to support vibrant urban cores. And the attendant traffic congestion has real costs, as a 2003 Deloitte study notes:
Well, I for one am surprised that there is any sort of correlation at all.

First of all, we have the obvious fact that what we call 'states' are merely lines on a map, and there is no inherent reason why demographics, income, and driving patterns should conform to lines on a map. For example, the Chicago metropolitan area has far more in common with the New York metropolitan area than does Chicago with downstate Illinois or New York City with upstate New York. So when you deal with per capita mileage in such a state you are really dealing with an averaging of highly urban and highly rural areas.  What can that possibly tell you? My own state of Delaware is smaller than many counties in Texas but it has a highly surburanized northern part and a highly rural southern part. The income and driving patterns in each are very different.

 I really think it's more of an urban vs rural thing. (A person living in NYC can walk to a movie, theatre while someone in Wyoming might have to make a 70-mile round trip.) I strongly suspect that If you use data available in terms of Statistical Metropolitan Areas, you will see these per capita numbers to be fairly similar from one SMA to another SMA.   Then if you selected say 50 rural counties in different states at random and compared the data for them, you might see that they were not too far apart from each other.

By the way, on a day like this I'm all for your suggestion of towing Delaware down to the Carribean!

Am not sure if this affects your discussion of Delaware, but it has no sales tax.  As a consequence, anyone living in a border state, e.g., Maryland loves to drive to Delaware.  Delaware gets lots of visitors.
SS: Amazing to me, About ten years ago I manually loaded similar data into XL from the 95 world almanac, however I used per-capita personal income and selected motor vehicle stats, and came up with similar results. I remember manipulating the data and generating about 25 different columns of data & charts. At the time I was still working full time. I blew it off to the fact that across the US the value of the dollar is not equal. For instance, while traveling I never eat or stop along my route, I always exit, and find some small town, and the last surviving mom & pop restaurant or motel. There is always a kind of gebmutliehite that is not present elsewhere, corporate businesses can not provide that type of friendliness, and when they do it always seems to be not sincere. You can not buy the contentment and life of these small town folks. You have to live it, and it will never be fitted into a gated community. The value of their life style is worth much more than the value of their paycheck or earnings. After running countless service jobs in the oilfield you learn much about small town life and their values. Perhaps being a farm-boy I still have their common values.
You DID mean say 'gemütlichkeit' (warm, friendly, cozy) don't you?

I fully agree with you about small, out of the way places. I used to do a good deal of business travel, and I always found it so depressing to be eating dinner at some mediocre franchised chain restaurant in a strip mall almost totally identical to any other strip mall in the country.

Just as a high degree of variation is essential for a healthy biosphere, so is a high degree of variation essential to a culture. Without it, we just become one big ant hill.

Joule: Thanks for the spelling, it was not in my German dictionary. I doubt there is an accurate English translation. I think it means the warm fuzzy you get after your second glass of wine, while having dinner with friends, and the fireplace is in full crackling flame in the dead of winter.  
BTW  what came first the joule or the watt-second?
Delaware also does not have state income tax.  It is our own home-grown tax haven.  
Delaware DOES have an income tax, and a fairly stiff one at that.

Property taxes, however, are relatively low compared to neighboring New Jersey. Overall, the cost of living is not all that much different from neighboring equivalent areas in PA, MD, and NJ, particularly since real estate prices are now more in line with those states.  

The absence of a sales tax is nice, but unfortunately DE has a de facto sales tax on cars by means of a registration 'fee' that is a certain percentage of the imputed value of the vehicle.

I really don't think there is all that much cross-border traffic from neighboring states to take advantage of the absence of sales tax. Anyway, that traffic would show up in the statistics for the neighboring states rather than DE.

State governments generally get the amount of money out of you that they want to, by one means or another. However, property taxes in NJ are really horrendous.

DE is an incorporation haven soley because it's incorporation laws are purposely lax and because it has a rather well developed corporate law system.  It is also a good place to register a pleasure boat, which is why you can go to almost any marina on the East Coast and see boats with Wilmington, DE as their 'home port'.

I stand corrected.  Thanks.
A couple of comments.

First, it seems to me that time spent driving is by and large wasted.  If we eliminate time spent with family or other pursuits as an alternative, there are two choices:  spend the time commuting or spend the time working.  Therefore, the greater the aggregate miles driven by a workforce, the lower the productivity (at least comparing similar workforces).   If you include personal time, greater time behind the wheel inevitably means more money spend on daycare, restaurants, etc.

Second, I did some very minimal research on obesity rates versus miles driven per year among various OECD countries.  Here in the U.S. we of course are the champions--greatest number of miles driven per year and highest obesity rate--and there appears to be a pretty consistent correlation.  The more miles you drive, the fatter you are.  It seems to me that this would also correlate to more health problems, more money spent on health care--and therefore lower productivity.  

The best advice that I can give Americans is the following: (1)  start trying to live on 50% of less of your current income and (2)  try to reduce the distance between your job and where you live to as close to zero as possible.  

I just drove through West Texas, and it kind of leaves me wondering who drives what and why.  I can see the need, if you have a country place, for the proverbial pick-up.  But are all those pick-up drivers country folks?

(Not many hybrids down there, but the handful of Texans who commented on my Prius were all hybrid-friendly.  I suppose the big SUV or pick-up is pretty expensive to run these days.)

Those "country folk" you mention actually do need the pick up trucks, more so than the average person. Having lived in central Texas for quiet some time, I believe the reason for high numbers of trucks is because of the culture. A lot of the  rural population's immediate descendents either own a truck before they hit the city, or it is their first choice because of cost and familiarity. Also, there is still a lot of undeveloped land fairly close to urban areas(ie. dirt roads, deer trails) and this keeps the perception of a truck/SUV need intact with a lot of the population. (Stat: 80-90% of vehicle sales in Texas are trucks or SUV's [as of 2000])
about 80% to 90% truck sales in Texas? can you provide the link of that info?
As fill-up price nears $100, big SUV sales fall
Sales have definitely dropped from the late nineties, and of course SUV sales have plummeted 13.5% nationwide(1st Qt) but currently:

According to R. L. Polk & Co., 57 percent of new-car registrations in Texas last year were pickups and SUVs...Ford's F-Series pickups alone accounted for 8.9 percent of new cars registered with the state

And the last sentence:

"Apparently, the interest in gas-guzzler SUVs is more than just waning. It has disappeared."

The critical questions for "adaptation" are who drives what, where, and when.  My sense is that there is tremendous low-hanging fruit assoicated with each of those questions.

A suburbanite who commutes through heavy traffic every day to work may not be able to easily change where/when, but they can certainly change what they drive - perhaps slashing gas usage by 50%.

Country dwellers might car-pool to the big box store, increasing passenger-miles while decreasing VMT.


Of course, gas prices high enough to drive that kind of adaptation are certainly going to trigger some "restructuring" as some fuel uses are discarded.  Such economic turmoil could be called out as a GDP-VMT linkage, but it's really an after-affect.

Fixing your model...
Try removing the vehicle mile component from state GDP. Otherwise, you have vehicle miles on both sides of your model (imagine a state where the only economic activity was driving; the GDP and vehicle miles would perfectly correlate, violating assumptions of OLS regression).

This should make your model more robust, though the "fit" may decline (because you are reducing the identity component from the equation).

What you end up with is a relation between non-driving GDP (actual economic productivity?) and vehicle miles travelled (wasteful commuting?)

Gasoline is only a few percent of GDP, and maintenance is less, so this effect shouldn't be very large. However, you are correct that it is present.
LOL, if "gasoline" could simply be subtracted from GDP as it becomes more dear, there wouldn' be a need to graph relationships would there?

The answer none of us know, which I think your graphs attempt to answer, is how much GDP will actually be removed by "peak oil."

My not so humble opinion is that we get a feel with the graphs and etc., but that there are so many feedback loops, operating at so many different levels, that we won't know until we see it play out.

We proved (by experience) that the 2005 gas story didn't cause an economic stall ... but that is all we know.  (I think important in that it paired high prices with a preceived one-time cause of hurricanes).

But these GSP and VMT data are from 2003, comparing one state to another. Therefore contamination of the GDP data by the VMT data should be small since gas prices were not outlandish in 2003. The point of the exercise was to gain a sense of which state economies are more oil-intensive (and why) -- well, strictly, driving intensivity --, and therefore understand better which kinds of communities are likely to hurt worse post-peak. Obviously, this is just an opening foray that has raised more questions than answers at this point. There certainly are large variations in driving intensivity of the various state economies, but the causes remain to be determined by and large.
Do states with high per-capita VMT suffer lower GDP growth in years of high gasoline price increase?
The way I would think of the puzzle is, imagine two states with the same population density. But one drives more than the other, and the one that drives more is poorer. Why is this?

Some have suggested that it could be that one state has a few big cities and little population elsewhere, while the other state has lots of small towns spread around. The first state will drive less and be richer than the second, due to the benefits of city living (which are enormous and often unrecognized (especially around here where we see some pretty romantic and unrealistic IMO "back to the land" visions)).

Another factor could be that poor people need to save money so they will drive farther to find better prices, going to Walmart instead of the corner store for example.

Or perhaps poor people tend to be less competent and efficient at economic planning (which is one reason they are poor) and so they inadvertantly waste more of their resources, including by driving unnecessarily.

let's not forget about the relationship between VMT and density.   I would be curious about the relationship between the two as well as a regression on GSP with both variables in the equation...

plus, the R2 is QUITE low for models of aggregated data on states...there's a lot of noise in there.  

Remember, also there's a lot of stuff going on at the lowest unit of analysis, the individual (but the data's not available, I know I know)...still, I would caution everyone not to pull an ecological fallacy and say anything about individual behavior based on this aggregate level data.  You can only compare state A to state B, not the people in those states or their behaviors.  

VMT vs density is the third graph.

Are you saying that you would generally expect R<sup>2</sup> to be low for aggregate data on states, so it's not surprising that these are low? Or that these R<sup>2</sup> in particular strike you as quite low relative to what you would expect?

sorry, didn't notice you switched the DV there.  :)

So, that leads me to ask you to run a multivariate regression with all three in the equation...or at least a correlation matrix of all of the variables you're talking about.  

and usually it is quite easy to find high correlations/R2 with aggregate data (because you are eliminating much of the stochasticity of those crazy human beings by aggregating them)...

I'll have to get back to you on the multi-variate regression. Excel won't do that, so I'll have to load it into Mathematica and figure out how to do that in Mma - no doubt doable, but a bit longer exercise. Given your field of study, you're probably more practiced at multi-variate regressions than I am.

"and usually it is quite easy to find high correlations/R2 with aggregate data (because you are eliminating much of the stochasticity of those crazy human beings by aggregating them)."

Well, but any such correlations we find should be more likely to be real right - noise effects will have averaged away?

right, but that's because you're correlating 'state' behaviors not 'individual' behaviors...
I don't think driving too much makes you poorer. I think poor people are forced to live way outside urban centers, and therefore drive more, because that's all they can afford. In these types of discussions everyone seems to overlook the fact that suburban housing is not only McMansions, but also McApartments that would cost three or four times more if they were located within walking distance of anything.
What a dumb thing this statistical analysis.

Automobiles cost money. They are not free. They need gas, insurance, tires, maintenance, all of which are not free. You have to spend your valuable time in the vehicle being unproductive and, more importantly, being miserable. Automobiles degrade the environment. Highways degrade the land. Pollution degrades the air. Metals from catalytic converters poison the land.

Yeah, you can use graphs and statistics to compare some tiny little slice of reality and come to pretty much any conclustion you want. But it avoids the holistic issue -- the inherent degrading of EVERYTHING that the easy-motoring culture represents. That is what makes people poor. Money is not a clean sky. It is not clean water. It is not an uncluttered landscape. It is not a close relationship with the land, with family, friends and neighbors. Poor is having to live in, no, to be trapped in this immensely evil automobile hell we have built through our silly worship of all things tech, all things "efficient," and all things business.

These sorts of specious analyses which purport to somehow enlighten are in fact part of the problem. By excising the horrible interconnected negative aspects of the automobile culture and using a limited slice to somehow speak to how "poor" one might be if one drives this much or that much is a sad, sad testament to our lack of imagination, our unwillingness to confront the basic holistic problems, including overshoot and global warming, and the inherently bad logic of the limitless growth, high-tech society.

The hobbyist nature of these statistical analyses bespeaks the inherent flaw of humanity -- the willingness to count the bolts on the prow of the Titanic even as we glide towards certain ecological, social, economic and personal doom.

So sad.

Obviously most people disagree with you, or they would all have gone back to the land long ago. They have voted with their feet, and they prefer to live in "automobile hell", all things considered. That is the reality we have to contend with.

(It's probably worth mentioning that I have spent a number of years living in a quite rural area (Humboldt Co, CA), and currently live in the city (San Francisco). Strictly for myself, I preferred the country for many of the reasons you mention. However, the city is a better place to support and educate a family so I'm here for now. I have also lived in cohousing communities in pursuit of that "close relationship" you mention. However, it would be foolish not to recognize that that it is a choice most people are not going to make.

So there is a strong flavor in your comments of wanting to impose your values on the great majority of Americans with different values.

I agree that this is an interesting theory about it.
Stuart -- education is closely correlated with income & GDP, is it not? I'm barely able to scrape thru precalculus over here so bear with my meager math skills, but if you figured education levels into the population densities, it seems like your graphs might come out closer to what you thought at first... i.e., populations with greater concentrations of college degrees will both drive less and create more wealth. Education stats could be your missing link.
I'm going to support Paula on this one--"I think poor people are forced to live way outside urban centers, and therefore drive more, because that's all they can afford."

But I only have anecdotal evidence from where I live, Boulder, Colorado. Here, none of the people that provide "basic services" (cutting your hair, checking you out of the grocery store, serving you that Mexican grill, etc.) can afford to live in town. So, they drive a lot more than in-city residents like me. They live in more affordable outlying areas like Longmont, Broomfield, etc.

So, I think the wealth inequality dimension plays a big role. The people who are already poor stay poor (and sometimes get even more impoverished).

Hasn't this always been the way life works?
Thats an unintended consequence of the movement to rebuild the downtowns. A city decides to reverse the hollowing out that occurs as the affluent move to the suburbs by renewing downtown. As a result housing prices and property taxes go up and the poor that had been left behind before end up being priced out of the areas with the best access to mass transit and other benefits.
 A few years ago a bond issue came up to renew a neglected part of my city. It was voted down in large part because the poorer area around it overwelmingly rejected it. I guess they figured out what was going on.
On second thought, maybe its not unintended.
R^2 assumes normal distributions to be an accurate measure of variation explained (although it always indicates the amount of variance explained, in the technical sense - variance just makes most sense in the context of normal distributions). The two latter models are also very prone to outliers for the very same reason. Try to take one of the high-population-density samples out, and you get a clearly different result.

You can fix this by taking a logarithm of population density. If it does not make population density normal enough, then take the density to a small power instead of taking a logarithm (0.2 or so - find a power that makes it most closely normal - this is the so called Box-Cox transformation).

Your models will then not be linear in terms of the original variables, but that does not matter much, as the amount of variance explained is small anyway. Nonlinearities are buried into the noise.

This is a good point, especially on the population density plots. I did stare at the data for a while, though, and convinced myself that applying a transformation to make things more normal would not change the result enough to justify staying up another hour. Next time I'll take your advice.
he's right about that, but it does make the results harder to make inferences from (you have to transform the coeffs, etc.)...and sometimes, the ln transform matters and sometimes it doesn't...completely depends on the distribution.

I sit in awe at your statistical abilities here and am hesitant to point out a couple things.

One issue with Wyoming may be the combination of low population and high interstate traffic.  Interstates 80, 90, and 25 pass through the state.  You should not be counting this 'pass thru' traffic.  Coupled with the low population, this would significantly screw up the figures.  (Wyoming is 50 outta 50 in population)

As for Delaware, who knows?

I think the only true way to look at this is at a lower level using the Census bureau's Traffic Analysis Zones but that is probably a LOT of work.  It could be a good Master's thesis for someone though.

The problem is that I'm not aware of VMT stats at anything finer-grained than the state level.
Nothing I know of tracks as well as the VMT data on a monthly basis.

The Census folks look at the trips to work.  It is table P127 of summary file 3.  It lists different ways people get to work.  Unfortunately, it is only every 10 years

I know the Florida Dept of Transportation publishes its traffic data every year.  You can break down probably a thousand locations across the state.

I am sure the other state DOT's have similar data, probably in their Planning departments too.

They actually collect traffic stats road-by-road, but that might be a bit too fine-grained for your needs.
You're right that the states do. However, there's no uniform federal reporting of it that I know. So one would be left trawling through the State data, in N different formats, bunches of missing data, and reconciling it with county boundaries. That's a thesis, not a blog post.

Some of your blog posts are more detailed than most theses.

If that really makes a difference for Wyoming, and it's really part of the VMT statistic, then it would be the exact same situation for Delaware. The northeast corridor goes from Washington DC to Boston, passing straight through Delaware on Rt. 95. Of course, then it would be the same for NJ, on the NJ Turnpike, but NJ might have a higher population density to start with.
Wyoming is #1 state in per capita energy production.

If state GDP includes tax collections from energy severance taxes, this is likely to produce some skew.  It probably does, at least implicitly, since these revenues are generally spent to supportstate operating budgets, in lieu of income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, etc. There are 10 states that are net energy exporters, some of which derive substantial income from well-head or mine mouth taxes on oil gas & coal.

Here is some per capita energy production data for CY 1999:
(sorry about formatting - should look OK if imported into spreadsheet)                           

state    PRODUCTION                       
abb.    TOTAL    PRIMARY    OIL    NG    COAL    TOTAL    MMBTU
    ELECT    ELECT                    PER
WY    0.149    0.004    0.355    0.914    7.155    8.428    17573.6
AK    0.02    0.003    2.223    0.514    0.033    2.773    4476.1
WV    0.323    0.003    0.009    0    3.353    3.365    1862
LA    0.305    0.062    0.696    5.904    0.063    6.725    1538.1
NM    0.111    0.001    0.373    1.679    0.619    2.672    1536.1
ND    0.107    0.009    0.191    0.059    0.661    0.919    1450.6
MT    0.1    0.04    0.087    0.068    0.872    1.067    1208.8
KY    0.316    0.009    0.016    0    2.963    2.988    754.5
OK    0.187    0.011    0.409    1.745    0.035    2.201    655.5
TX    1.22    0.137    2.606    6.797    1.126    10.666    532.1
UT    0.125    0.005    0.094    0.292    0.56    0.951    446.3
CO    0.135    0.005    0.107    0.821    0.636    1.57    387.1
KS    0.144    0.031    0.168    0.615    0.009    0.823    310.2
AL    0.413    0.148    0.065    0.608    0.414    1.234    282.4
PN    0.664    0.257    0.009    0    1.621    1.887    157.3
IN    0.416    0.002    0.011    0    0.722    0.735    123.7
VA    0.255    0.106    0    0    0.685    0.791    115.1
IL    0.557    0.282    0.07    0    0.858    1.21    99.7
MS    0.12    0.035    0.104    0.123    0    0.263    95.1
AZ    0.286    0.138    0    0.001    0.25    0.389    81.5
WA    0.397    0.355    0    0    0.087    0.443    76.9
CA    0.63    0.328    1.584    0.425    0    2.336    70.5
OH    0.486    0.06    0.035    0    0.477    0.572    50.8
OR    0.193    0.157    0    0.001    0    0.159    47.9
SC    0.306    0.179    0    0    0    0.179    46
MI    0.354    0.062    0.045    0.308    0    0.415    42.1
AR    0.162    0.061    0.041    0    0    0.103    40.4
SD    0.036    0.023    0.006    0    0    0.029    39.8
ID    0.049    0.048    0    0    0    0.048    38.3
TN    0.319    0.12    0.002    0    0.064    0.187    34
NB    0.107    0.04    0.015    0    0    0.056    33.5
NH    0.056    0.039    0    0    0    0.039    32.3
VT    0.019    0.019    0    0    0    0.019    32
MD    0.178    0.054    0    0    0.081    0.135    26.2
NC    0.402    0.147    0    0    0    0.147    19.2
ME    0.041    0.023    0    0    0    0.023    18.1
GA    0.408    0.134    0    0    0    0.134    17.1
CT    0.095    0.052    0    0    0    0.052    15.8
NJ    0.194    0.103    0    0    0    0.103    12.6
MN    0.168    0.056    0    0    0    0.056    11.8
NY    0.495    0.21    0.001    0    0    0.211    11.6
FL    0.639    0.135    0.028    0.007    0    0.17    11.3
NV    0.105    0.015    0.004    0    0    0.019    10.4
WI    0.202    0.052    0    0    0    0.052    9.9
MO    0.252    0.035    0.001    0    0.008    0.044    8.1
IA    0.13    0.016    0    0    0    0.016    5.6
MA    0.135    0.024    0    0    0    0.024    3.9
HI    0.035    0.003    0    0    0    0.003    2.8
RI    0.023    0    0    0    0    0    0.4
DC    0.001    0    0    0    0    0    0
DE    0.023    0    0    0    0    0    0

    data from                       
    1999 DATA PREPARED 6/29 2001               

I don't know if link shown is still valid, but that was my data source.

The scatter in your data might be reduced if you regress per capita GDP versus two variables, VM/capita and per capita energy production.  Unfortunately, this still does not explain Delaware.

Les Lambert

I'm not sure your basic hypothesis holds up.  Or that it will hold up post-peak, anyway.  Yes, urban areas produce more wealth now.  But that doesn't mean they'll continue to do so in the future.  Post-peak, will Wall St. continue to pull millions of dollars into New York City?  Stock brokers and financial analysts may be generating wealth, but they aren't really producing anything.  

However, I think you may be right that a rural homestead is not necessarily the best way to ride out the peak.  Tainter points out that often, people huddle closer to the cities as collapse approaches.  One, the government may provide jobs, food, etc., in the cities.  (Possibly confiscated from rural farmers, who have to go to the city and get on the dole if they want to eat the food they grew.)  Two, it becomes too dangerous.  Isolated farms and small villages cannot defend themselves from war parties, bands of looters, etc.  

Though Kunstler thinks the suburbs are the worst place to weather the peak, someone who survived the Argentinian economic collapse recommends them as the best:

After all these years I learned that even though the person that lives out in the country is safer when it comes to small time robberies, that same person is more exposed to extremely violent home robberies. Criminals know that they are isolated and their feeling of invulnerability is boosted. When they assault a country home or farm, they will usually stay there for hours or days torturing the owners. I heard it all: women and children getting raped, people tied to the beds and tortured with electricity, beatings, burned with acetylene torches.

Big cities aren't much safer for the survivalist that decides to stay in the city. He will have to face express kidnappings, robberies, and pretty much risking getting shot for what's in his pockets or even his clothes.

So, where to go? The concrete jungle is dangerous and so is living away from it all, on your own.

The solution is to stay away from the cities but in groups, either by living in a small town-community or sub division, or if you have friends or family that think as you do, form your own small community.

Some may think that having neighbors within "shouting" distance means loosing your privacy and freedom, but it's a price that you have to pay if you want to have someone to help you if you ever need it. To those that believe that they will never need help from anyone because they will always have their rifle at hand, checking the horizon with their scope every five minutes and a first aid kit on their back packs at all times... Grow up.    

Close-knit communities that know who are strangers and who are not are always the best in times of crisis. I think if things collapse I will try to get to Ithaca NY where I have relatives in the community and perhaps I can use my Cornell Alumni status for something...I've even thought of buying some property up there to rent out to students during the academic year as a way to establish myself. But that's long term planning.
Interesting link!

You're equating peak with collapse, and I'm not sure why you'd do that. You and I both think it's most likely peak is right around now, give or take a year or two, and yet immediate indicators of collapse are non-existent, right? GDP growth is solid and crime statistics continue to fall. I'm not saying it's impossible for western societies to ever collapse, but things don't generally go to hell overnight. My assessment is that the anticipated rate of oil production decline, as best we can project it, suggests society should be able to adapt for some time (I'm not saying this adaptation will be painless). The world economy already proved it's ability to decrease oil usage y-on-y in the early eighties without anything approaching collapse (ok, the early eighties weren't fun economically, but it was very far from a collapse). So even if things eventually collapse (which I think we probably have choices about at this point) there will be a long period of grinding down first.

However my idea that urban areas generate more wealth/capita than rural areas is only very weakly supported by this state-by-state analysis. That's the best critique of it probably. My guess now is that migration from country->city has ensured that the difference never gets too great.

Yes, I too have raised my optimism levels since first reading Matt Savinar/Jim Kunstler.

Reading about Cuba's experience helped a lot with this. Despite going from full-on oil use to virtually no oil in a matter of months, Cuba survived without descending into anarchy.  Sure they had real tough times (the average Cuban lost 20lb), and their economy essentially collapsed as it 'transformed' into an almost totally agrarian one, but today, their average life expectency matches the US (doesn't say much, mind you!).

If your prediction of a very slow decline rates is true, then we will have a much easier time than the Cubans, so I don't see how we will descend into the Dark Ages.

That's not to say I'm not taking mitigating steps. I am just in the process of getting a wood-fired kitchen stove and solar water heater installed, and I'm taking a serious look at all the electrical 'stuff' in the house to see if it is actually necessary, and if so, how efficient it is ( the TV and video have long gone!)

With due respect to Megan Quinn, who made the Cuba film and I got to talk to yesterday at the Boulder relocalization thing, I will say that the transition for Cuba was going to be a lot less intense than it would be in the US in any case. Cuba was not a suburban sprawl nightmare with Taco Bells, strip malls, WalMarts, Home Depots, McMansions etc. ad nauseum. I wonder what percentage of people in Cuba had cars before the shit hit the fan for them energy-wise? It was already a collection of moderately localized economies and a poor country. What is really impressive, as you point out but don't emphasize enough IMHO, is that they had really tough times making the conversion anyway. That's scary, is it not?

The US is a totally different story with levels of "affluence", entitlement and privilege that exceed any culture that has ever existed. All this is built on a fossil fuels fantasy that never really existed in Cuba after Castro's revolution threw out Batista.
They don't get too much snow either.
Exactly.  I think climate makes a huge difference.  They can grow food year-around in Cuba.  

Also, Cuba was not completely self-sufficient.  They imported staples like rice and beans, so they didn't have to grow all their food.  They did a great job of adjusting, but in many ways they were very lucky.

North Korea didn't adjust nearly as well.  No doubt part of it different policies, but a large part of it was plain ol' bad luck.  They suffered terrible floods, including a tsunami that ruined a big chunk of farmland.

Really, I think that's the most likely problem we will face post-peak: inability to deal with unexpected setbacks.  

From what I've read (I get Megan's email newsletter), I would say that the Cubans "had really tough times making the conversion" because of the sheer speed of the demise of their oil imports.

They seemed to experience quite wide-spread denial about the problem until they were really in trouble, and they had a hard time stopping the rural population migrating into the cities.  Once they stemmed that flow and re-organised the agrarian side of their economy, they began to turn things around.  They are not even close to being 'out of the woods' yet, either.

I would agree that if the US had to deal with that kind of drastic, sudden loss of oil imports, then there would be a catastrophic collapse of US society.

But Stuart's plateau with 1% decline rates should give the affluent countries a chance to both a) come to terms with what is happening, and b) adapt to (or at least cushion) the effect of the decline in oil.

I do not see a "mad-max"-style society for the US (or here in NZ) as the doomsters love to predict.

The ones that will be affected badly will be the poorest countries, but, as you quite rightly say, these countries don't have so far to 'fall'.

As the richest country with the least taxed fuel, the US will be one of the last countries to 'feel the pain' of rising oil prices, so there is no reason to suggest that the US may not continue to grow, at the expense of the poorer countries.  Besides, isn't that what's been happening within our western, capitalist societies for the past few decades? The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.

You're equating peak with collapse, and I'm not sure why you'd do that.

Because that's what many people who want to ride it out in a rural homestead believe.  They're expecting pillaging zombie hordes.  If you don't believe that, moving to the city where there's public transportation would probably be a better idea.  The financial talking heads who believe in peak oil are mostly recommending dumping suburban real estate and buying in the city.  They think the value of suburban real estate is going to tank, while the value of city property will shoot up.

You and I both think it's most likely peak is right around now, give or take a year or two, and yet immediate indicators of collapse are non-existent, right?

I'm not sure.  Tainter points out we've been suffering diminishing returns for 50 years or more.  We might continue for centuries after peak oil.  Or not.  I don't pretend to know.

I will say that I am much more pessimistic since Hurricane Katrina.  For me, that showed just how fast it can all go down the tubes.

Argentina's crisis was a currency crisis, and things did go to hell pretty fast.  I think it's possible we could suffer something similar.

Where I live (Sacramento, California) one city government department - sanitation - is starting to work on dealing with the impacts of peak oil.  There is also a project putting more police on bicycle patrol, and the local light rail system had just completed another expansion.

In my view, the Federal government will be largely ineffective in dealing with peak oil - other than arming itself to the teeth to maintain global dominance.  Local government is one place where citizens can exert influence and gain traction.


What, exactly, is the sanitation dept. doing?  Are they only worrying about fuel for their vehicles, or are they thinking recycling the waste into fuel or fertilizer?

I went home to Hawai`i for Christmas, and I noticed that California and Hawai`i both seem a lot more prepared for peak oil than the northeast.  They still a far way to go, but relatively speaking, I was impressed.  There's a charging station for electric vehicles at LAX.  The LA city buses run on natural gas.  In Hawai`i, there's a bunch of wind farms, a plant that burns garbage for electricity, a geothermal plant, and an ocean thermal plant.  Right by the Kona Airport there's a building by the ocean thermal plant that has a huge bank of solar panels.  It won some kind of award for its green design; there was an article in the paper about it while I was there.

My wife and I have a lot of local contacts via our political activities, and thru these we met a project manager from the sanitation department.  We were surprised to find that she is aware of peak oil and at the moment is primarily concerned with mediating rising energy and fuel costs.  The department study is at a very early stage, and we're lucky that our local outpost (Sacramento Post-Carbon Action Network) is plugged in.  We're also anticipating a significant article on PO in the Sacramento News and Review, our weekly progressive newspaper, and will post a link to that if/when it comes out.
A few parting comments re this particular thread:

While I am aware that a lot of statistical data is collected on a state-by-state basis, the reason for doing so is purely historical and bureaucratic,  and there is no valid statistical reason for collecting data in this manner. This is particularly true in the environmental field, where air pollution, and to a lesser extent water pollution and solid waste movements, have absolutely nothing to do with the location of political boundaries.

For example, it is next to ludicrous to try to correlate air quality in my home state of tiny Delaware to say Delaware's GDP or miles traveled, etc. The simple and obvious reason is that the wind does not come to a screaching halt at the borders between Delaware and PA, NJ, and MD.  We contribute to the air quality in the neighboring areas of PA, NJ,and MD, and they contribute to the air quality in Delaware.  Furthermore, the major corridor of I-95, one of the most heavily travelled arteries in the country, runs smack through the northern part of the state.

So, the valid statistical unit for the analysis of air quality should be a region consisting a circle of perhaps 50 miles radius encompassing northern DE, parts of southeastern PA, a chunk of NJ including the Camden area and suburbs, plus perhaps a tiny peice of northeastern MD. The EPA has recognized this problem and that is why they often divide regions up into
'air quality districts' for the purpose analyzing air quality.  

(By the way, Delaware has one of the highest per capita cancer rates in the country, but I believe this is a statistical artifact stemming from the fact that the heavily populated northern part of the state is epidemiologically indistinguishable from the greater Philadelphia area.)  

Regarding the driving habits of poor vs affluent people: it's been my observation that i) poor people don't think much in terms of gas mileage and tend to drive the cheapest car they can find, even if it's an old beater of a gas-guzzler,  ii) poor people will drive long distances to find whatever work they can, and iii) the further you are from urban areas and the near suburbs, the cheaper the housing. Convenience can be very  expensive - something that someone like Kunstler doesn't seem to fully appreciate.  

As you know, you go to an analysis with the data you have. They're not the data you might want or wish to have at a later time. :-)
Is this akin to Rumsfeld's comment that "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want." ?

I can well appreciate the problem though, and give you lots of credit for making the effort to make some sense out of all this :-).

I directly edited his quote :-)
I'd say this also applies to using "gross state product" or "gross domestic product".  IMO these "gross" figures offer a significantly distorted view of "wealth" and "progress".  But there's no alternative, is there?
Definitely.  I sometimes get into "growth and happiness" discussions and one of the worrying assumptions there is that growth (in GDP) is equal to an increase in wealth.  With the recent decline in the American savings rate (negative?) that connection is less sure.

Peak Oilers of the more extreme bent look at this as a potential "perfect storm" as debt-laden consumers lose jobs in a crashing real estate market.

I'm not that extreme, but certainly I'd rather face Peak Oil with record savings rates, rather than the reverse.

I don't agree that states are just lines on a map in this context.  States have markedly different tax structures and different spending priorities, and this can make a big difference in the economics of a state and the quality of life there.

One example:  Drive across the border from Califorina to Oregon (not on I-5).  The border regions of both states are relatively poor and rural.  In California though, the road is brand new, with freshly painted lines and every safety feature.  Cross the border into Oregon, and the road is rutted, the lines are worn, and the reflectors are missing.  Drive north through Oregon into Washington, and once you cross the border again the road is up to first world standards again.  The reason why is that Oregon has not had enough tax revenues to keep infrastructure repaired, and California and Washington have.  

On a lighter note, I would just like to point out that the character Miller in the movie "Repo Man" made the following keen observation:

"The more you drive, the less intelligent you are."

Carry on with your real discussions!

I think Miller  has got cause and effect up side down. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that "The less intelligent you are the more you drive".

When I think back to my early teens in the dim and distant late 1950s, it becomes apparent that the 'junvenile deliquents' did a hell of a lot of driving compared to the 'nice boys'. Cruising for them was an art form. Gas mileage was a totally alien concept. Kids would drive all over the place just for the sake of doing just that.  Driving was a thing onto itself.

So, I think that the character Miller in the movie, Repro Man, was right on.  While I'm a real car person, I do recognize that a certain element views the car as the essence of freedom and escape rather than as a necessary evil. If  you don't have wheels, you've got nothing.

As I said earlier, poor people generally don't think in terms of gas mileage, but they do want to limit the amount of capital expenditure they need to make on an automobile. So they tend to buy large gas-guzzling junkers.

It's all a matter of present-thinking vs future thinking.

Someone once said that the super-rich think two generations ahead, whilst the poor only think ahead to Saturday night. A bit prejudiced I will readily admit (seeing as how poor Asian immigrant skimp and save for their children), but I think that that mentality is rampant in a large segment of our population.

I don't think this is fair.  Poor rural regions in the US have nothing for young people to do, and long transits without public transportation.

I grew up in rural Oregon.  I used to drive 50 miles round trip to visit my girlfriend.  I used to drive 30 miles round trip to go to college and work at a fast food place for minimum wage!  None of this was unusual enough to comment on, and I lived on the edge of a small town.

I used to cruise with my friends, and we would have a great time.  There was nothing else to do, except stop at a diner and drink several quarts of coffee.  If we hadn't been doing that we would have been at a kegger out in the middle of nowhere (talk about stupid!)

There was no city bus or other public transportation other than Greyhound.  I used to joke that if you had a choice between a car and a house, pick the car, because you can sleep in your car, but you can't drive your house to work.  The joke wasn't as funny after I met a college student who was sleeping in his car out on a dirt road near the college.

Please don't pick on people who don't have all of the options you do.

The issue of present versus future thinking is an important one. It's not just wealth which leads people to take a longer term view, it's also a sense of certainty and stability - a belief in the permanence of present socioeconomic arrangements.  If that belief is shaken, even those who could still call themselves wealthy may lose the luxury of the long term view and be pitched into short-term crisis management mode. (Uncertainty and fear about the future result in effectively raising the rate at which the future is discounted in comparison with the present, thereby shortening planning horizons.) That kind of thinking is the antithesis of the careful powerdown planning we would need in order to be able to adapt rationally to resource scarcity in a financially constrained environment.

In my view, this is one reason why our society can anticipate significant difficulties adapting to changed circumstances. The more rapid the change for the worse, the greater the shift away from long-term thinking is likely to be.

I agree 100%.  I am very concerned about how this will play out.  I think about the timber crisis in my home state of Oregon during the 70's and 80's.  Timber companies very successfully pinned the blame on environmentalists for making them stop logging.  No one wanted to think about sustainablity when they were facing the loss of a job they had for 20 years.  Also, no-one pointed out that the profits were all going to shareholders back east.  This scapegoating kept people angry, not thinking straight, gave them the false hope that if the Evil Environmentalists could be stopped everything would be OK, and generally discouraged people from seeking a more way to make a living.  It also gave timber companies time to close down operations without labor trouble.

I am afraid that Peak Oil will be the same - media campaigns to blame scapegoats, with energy wasted on anger instead of being spent finding a new way to live.

The role of commuting-related gas use can be broken down through Census data; Matt Kures has estimated that $.50 increase in gas price relates to over $300 million in increased gas spending annually for Wisconsin commuters. Detailed report with maps of "stretch commuters" can be found here:
"50 of the 52 US states."
when did the US acquire 52 states? The CIA in their fact book still think it is 50 plus 1 district.
Duh - fixed.
I should add that DC is excluded since I didn't have all relevant data for it.
I'm afraid that the problem with this analysis is the geographic scale you have chosen.  There is simply too much variation with the urban and rural landscapes within states for a meaningful comparison across states.  I understand the data issues, but that is part of the research challenge.  

There are a few journal articles that take on urban form and energy consumption that you may find interesting.  It's a slightly different research question, but closely related to what you are investigating.  Below are references for a journal article that reviews this literature and a book that updates a classic study on energy and urban form.      

A good lit review (I can email this to you if you can't access it through a university library):

Anderson, W. P., Kanaroglou, P. S., & Miller, E. J. (1996). Urban Form, Energy and the Environment: A Review of Issues, Evidence and Policy. Urban Studies, 33(1), 7 - 36.

Summary. The spatial configuration of cities and its relationship to the urban environment has recently been the subject of empirical, theoretical and policy research. Because of the disciplines involved, relevant articles are scattered over a large number of journals. The objective of this paper is to put the issues in perspective by reviewing the basic concepts and relationships involved, and to evaluate critically the current state of knowledge about urban form, energy utilization and the environment. The scope of the paper is limited to urban transport energy use and the associated emissions. Suggestions for further progress in the field are offered , with emphasis placed on integrated urban models as useful and policy-sensitive analytical tools.

The following book contains an update of a classic study on energy consumption and urban form that you may also find interesting:

http://books.google.com/books?ie=UTF-8&hl=en&vid=ISBN1559636602&id=pjatbiavDZYC&dq=S ustainability+and+Cities:+Overcoming+Automobile+Dependence&prev=http://books.google.com/books%3F q%3DSustainability%2Band%2BCities:%2BOvercoming%2BAutomobile%2BDependence%26lr%3D%26client%3Dfirefox -a&pg=PP1&printsec=0&lpg=PP1&sig=AFv85BESXwVZD8rdHLa9hoQvLGk

I'll order the book, and by all means email me the paper.
You have mail.
I'm sure I remember reading a study somewhere that the strongest factor in surviving adversity is a strong community.  Living in the back of beyond is no good if you don't have people around you who can pull together.

Personally I have moved out of the city into a small town (pop 10000) which has very strong sense of community, the lowest number of chain stores in the UK, meaning most things can be bought locally.  Very high interest in sustainability / organic farming. Good public transport links etc...

Society can more easily create value, or gdp, when large concentrations of people work together. At the same time, cities separate workers from close proximity to their jobs. On the farm, you walk outside and you are on the job site. Or, in a small town, everybody can walk to work.  In cities, you may live several miles from work, and need to go there five days/week. So cities are high energy consumers that lure workers with both entertainment and high salaries, or at least high enough to provide the energy necessary to get to and from work.

The larger the city, the greater the average separation from work, and the more energy/capita required to maintain production. Most cities have grown to large size during the age of cheap energy, and some may be larger than what would be ideal in a high-cost energy environment.  At the same time, the small-town model would not be a good replacement because it requires too much land area.

As the cost of energy rises cities (and all other consumers) will become more energy efficient. People will move closer to work, smaller companies will move to the burbs, and/or people will tellecommute.

The larger the city, the greater the average separation from work

Is this really true?  People living in the country often have to drive many miles to get anywhere (including work), whereas people in large cities can often walk to work.

While your statement may be generally true in the U.S. right now, I'm unsure that such a correlation necessarily exists.

I believe the reason that driving results in less GDP/statistical area is that a high percentage of the cost of the gasoline is not counted in the GDP of the particular statistical area. It is profit that is creamed off the top and returned to the oil producing areas or oil company headquarter locations (Canada, NY, Alaska and perhaps Texas and even Oklahoma and we can probably add Deleware) and operating division areas in the form of cost of production and profits. Thus it is my theory that if you do the same analysis on Canada, OPEC and the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Alaska and Louisiana, they will be seen to have unusually high "GDP" in relation to per-capita miles driven.
The states with lower population densities are mostly states with right to work for less laws. Wages are lower and absentee ownership of businesses and even large agricultural operations exports GSP to urban states. Many if not most small family farms have at least one family member who must commute long distances to some low wage retail or health care job in order to keep that farm in the family.
Fantastic work, great site.

A couple of loose ideas...

1.Transportation is often of goods, especially retail. Service industries are less intensive I would assume, in fuel terms.
Retail has largely been on a dowturn for five years or so (depending on region) and margins have been squeezed, profits are poor, wages are poor etc...

2.People with assets are often - ipso facto - richer. Assets are homes. Mant are  self employed. The richer self employed person doesn't travel so far/owns thier own home/has seen it's value rise...

3. Driving jobs are poorly paid very often. Taxis, van drivers, removals etc...

Just a few late evening thoughts...

    I understand that for many years there was a very strong correlation between the amout of bananas imported into Greta Britain and the growth of the Royal Navy. Perhaps the correlation being discussed here is a similar one.