Birth Control? There’s an App for That

Planned Parenthood pioneers a new program to improve contraceptive access.

Given that 82 percent of teen pregnancies are unintended, it should come as no surprise that sexual health advocates are eager to make information and services even easier to access and more appealing to emerging adults. Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, which serves Western Washington, Alaska, and Southern Idaho, recently rolled out a telemedicine pilot project that may help to do just that.

The new plan offers virtual office visits via video conference with a trained reproductive health professional. A virtual visit allows a care provider and patient to see each other and have a conversation in real time, but without the scheduling and transportation challenges that cause some young people to delay care.  It provides an alternative way to get mail order contraceptives, or (soon) home tests for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. These two sexually transmitted infections are most common among youth ages 15 to 24 and together affect almost 4 million Americans per year.

In particular, Planned Parenthood hopes the new service will help meet the needs of young people in rural areas where simply getting to and from a clinic may take several hours. For youth in small communities, confidentiality can also be an issue: young people seeking services may not want to risk bumping into someone they know. Read more »

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Weekend Reading 10/17/14

Portland's awesome Street Books program, best bots, and more.
This post is 176 in the series: Weekend Reading

Editor’s Note: Recently, we invited board members to contribute to weekend reading when they like. Chris Troth took us up on the offer this week! And our fall communications intern, Keiko Budech, also added a couple pieces to this weeks picks—enjoy!


This article, which filled my heart with happy, is about librarians on cargo bikes in Portland who deliver customized reading piles to people who live outdoors. “Street Books has no return policy at all, except a kind of when-you-are-done-reading, next-time-we-meet handshake agreement.”

A fascinating discussion in Vancouver, BC, about the relative merits of mid-rise and high-rise housing.


Satellite data has found a methane emissions hotspot in the Southwest US—likely natural gas leaking from coal-bed methane projects. If the scientists are right, the emissions had the same global warming impact as all of the carbon dioxide produced yearly in Sweden.


Just how important is the connection between diversity in the workplace and the quality of the work that results? Objective research shows that when we collaborate with partners dissimilar from ourselves, we up our game, and slack off in the company of those who are more similar. Read more »

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Prediction: Cloud Peak’s Coal Export Division Will Start Losing Money in 2015

There's only so long a coal company can make money betting that coal prices will fall.
This post is 26 in the series: Coal Exports: Caveat Investor

Cloud Peak Energy—a major coal producer in the Powder River Basin, and one of the top coal exporters in the western US—will release its third quarter financials in a few weeks. And even though international coal prices have been in free-fall for almost three years, I expect that Cloud Peak’s financial reports will show that the company’s export (or “logistics”) division made money from June through September 2014.

Yet I also expect that, just beneath the surface, the firm’s financials will show that Cloud Peak lost money exporting coal to Asia, just as it has for the last four consecutive quarters.

Just beneath the surface, Cloud Peak’s financials will show that the firm lost money exporting coal to Asia—just as it has for the last four consecutive quarters.

So how is it possible for a coal company to report profits from its export division, but losses from actual export sales? The answer: even though Cloud Peak’s coal export sales are bleeding red ink, the company is still benefiting from big bets that the company made years ago on the coal futures market.

But I believe that those lucky bets are poised to run out, starting in 2015.

Read more »


Ebola versus Cars

How we systematically misunderstand risk.

I think this chart speaks for itself.

Original Sightline Institute chart, available under our free use policy.

Original Sightline Institute chart, available under our free use policy.

It’s probably fair to say that we’re in the midst of a full-blown media frenzy over the (admittedly worrisome) spread of the latest Ebola virus. Yet so far this year roughly 242 times as many people have died from traffic collisions—and I haven’t yet heard anyone call for banning cars, making driving illegal, or quarantining motorists. Read more »


Cap and Trade—In 3 Pictures

Three mental shortcuts for talking about smart climate and energy policy.
This post is part of the research project: Flashcards

We all rely on mental shortcuts to make sense of new information. Often, metaphor and analogy—or pictures—help us get a handle on abstract ideas.

Right now, far-reaching climate and energy policy is back in the news, this time at the state level on the west coast where California has an established cap and trade system, Oregon and Washington are thinking seriously about putting a limit on climate pollution, and British Columbia has a successful carbon tax shift in place.

The time is right to deploy the most compelling illustrations of how smart climate and energy policy works for people and our economy. Here are three mental shortcuts for talking about cap and trade:

Read more »

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Can We Depend on the Money?

What Washington’s carbon revenue stream could look like through 2050.
This post is 16 in the series: Cashing In Our Carbon

Is carbon revenue too flighty for Washington to depend on it to solve some of its budget woes—including the State Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate to fully fund education? If a carbon price is successful at cutting pollution, won’t the revenue stream dry up as the pollution dwindles? The answer is no. Price and pollution are related; the price must progressively increase to continue curtailing pollution. If Washington keeps ratcheting down the pollution, it will receive a carbon revenue stream that will steadily rise for the next two decades and then flatten out in the 2040s.

Because it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, I offer three plausible price scenarios based on what we know. We know that pollution responds to price. We know that complementary policies, such as investments in energy efficiency, can work with a price to cut the cost of paring pollution. Each of the scenarios below assumes the Evergreen State hits its existing pollution abatement goals: getting back to 1990 levels of pollution by 2020, then cutting to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, then slashing to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

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Weekend Reading 10/10/14

If we cared about climate like we do about sports; oil train backers' desperate moves; and more.
This post is 175 in the series: Weekend Reading


Julia Roberts as Mother Nature. Kinda heavy-handed? How ‘bout this?


This week brought more evidence that the oil-by-rail industry is out of control. Another train derailed and exploded, this time in rural Saskatchewan. The next day, CBC aired an investigative report on the punishing labor conditions for locomotive operators who are being stretched thin by railway cost-cutting. It’s the same story we’ve seen in the US.

Just so, both of Canada’s major railroads, CN and CP, are fighting new safety regulations.

Today, the New York Times reported that oil trains have severly impaired passenger rail service, especially in the northern US. The Empire Builder route, connecting Chicago to Portland (and Seattle), is now late 70 percent of the time. Read more »

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A Fair Share of Streets (Part 2)

What can we learn from Europe's experiences with shared streets?
This post is 11 in the series: Family-Friendly Cities

In my last post, I took a look at streets that have been designed specifically so kids and cars can safely share space. That’s most definitely not the case on streets like this one, where a seven-year-old Seattle girl last week was critically injured by a car that hit her in a crosswalk, never even braked, and left her lying in the street.

A bold experiment in Portland last week offered a glimpse of how different things could be. Using a DIY approach that would make a traffic engineer wince, Better Block PDX temporarily transformed several blocks of 3rd Avenue in Old Town/Chinatown from a street that primarily moves people in cars to one that serves all kinds of people.

Read more »


Seattle Goes Backward on Micro-housing

What will it take to build a power base for inexpensive housing?
This post is 14 in the series: Legalizing Inexpensive Housing

Yesterday, to my dismay, the Seattle city council tightened rules on micro-apartments, the neo-rooming houses I lauded last year in Unlocking Home. The council, facing its first ever round of district-by-district elections next year, appears spooked by the complaints of some noisy (but not necessarily numerous) neighbors who have exclusionary attitudes. It imposed new restrictions including a requirement for two sinks in each unit (because… um… why?), design review for some micro-apartment buildings (just like the city requires for single-family houses of a similar size—oh, it doesn’t? Ok, well, because… reasons), and nearly doubled minimum floor area in some micros (because obviously the old minimum, which was about the size of a dorm room at Harvard or Stanford and was substantially more indoor space than most people now or ever before in the world have had to themselves, was a grave threat to health and livability -snark-). The new rules are perfect illustrations of the kind of banal-sounding land-use standards that have over decades pinched off much of the historic bottom end of the private housing market in the Northwest.

The rules will likely prevent construction of hundreds of inexpensive living spaces in Seattle’s most walkable neighborhoods over the next decade. It could even halt hundreds a year. I don’t have a full tally of all the subsidized affordable housing units built annually in the city, but I suspect it’s on the same order of magnitude. (Readers: can someone tell us?) The new rules are unlikely to completely squelch neo-rooming houses, but any reduction is too big a reduction. Cascadia’s largest city ought to be building housing of all types to accommodate the waves of newcomers who are already moving Northwest-ward (and possibly to prepare for the expected onslaught of climate migrants).

The entire exercise in clamping down on micro-housing was a discouraging display of pandering to the NIMBY forces that so often dominate local planning. It gets frustrating. As I wrote a year ago in the Seattle Times,

SEATTLE should stop lying to itself about affordable housing. For all our high-minded rhetoric about creating an affordable city, and for all our housing levies, the grim reality of city rules suggests that we actually want to stamp out affordable housing, not build it.

Read more »


The Big Problem with Letting Small Railroads Haul Oil

The Lac-Mégantic disaster: was it just the brakes?
This post is 52 in the series: The Northwest's Pipeline on Rails

The disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec—where 47 people were killed by a Bakken oil train derailment—is commonly understood to have resulted from a train slipping its brakes and then rolling downhill into town where it crashed disastrously. It was a tragedy, but it should not be considered just a mechanical accident.

In truth, it was a self-reinforcing chain of events and conditions caused by underinvestment, lack of maintenance, and staff cutbacks. And it’s a lesson the Northwest should heed because it illuminates the risks of allowing small regional and short line railroads to pick up unit trains of crude oil from bigger railroads like BNSF and transport them short distances to refineries and terminals. The Northwest is home to at least two small railroads with big oil-by-rail aspirations. One already hauls oil trains several times a week through Portland and small towns in northwest Oregon while the other, plagued by a string of recent derailments, aims to service no fewer than three terminals at the Port of Grays Harbor.

The story from Quebec—of what happened to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) railroad—is the story of a disaster waiting to happen. MMA was a regional railroad assembled in 2002 by a holding company from the assets of bankrupt Iron Road Railways, which owned four small railroads operating in Maine, Vermont, and Quebec. MMA had struggled financially from the start just as its major customers in the forestry industry also struggled. It went through a series of cutbacks to staff and maintenance. Read more »