Eric de Place

Eric de Place is a senior researcher at Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based sustainability think tank.

Not-so-charismatic megafauna

Ginormous earthworm discovered, may get federal protection

Here's the deal: there's a three-foot-long pink earthworm living in the Palouse region of Idaho and Washington and nowhere else on the planet. It can burrow 15 feet underground and it was re-discovered last year after scientists believed it had gone extinct. Also, it smells like a lily. At the risk of sounding unserious: awesome!

Efficiency vs. biomass smackdown

This post was written by Clark Williams-Derry, who's on vacation. An interesting contrast. The NW Current is reporting that, even with rising prices for fossil fuels, biomass electricity projects -- using, say, wood waste or sewage solids -- are having trouble penciling out. Between capital and fuel costs, it's still cheaper to generate electricity from fossil fuels than from biomass. Meanwhile, energy-efficiency programs are wildly successful, oversubscribed -- and in Oregon, cost about 1.3 cents per kilowatt hour saved, which is a massive bargain. Says Energy Trust's executive director, Margie Harris: Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective resource -- half the cost of new generation ... There's more to be acquired if it were the wish of the Oregon Legislature for us to go after it. True 'nuff.

This book was made for walking

It makes intuitive sense that living in a community that encourages walking -- with sidewalks, good street connections, and homes that are close to shops and services -- would make you active and healthier. As Sightline Institute's new book -- Cascadia Scorecard 2006: Focus on Sprawl and Health -- points out, such communities are also safer. (Full disclosure: I work at Sightline.) Residents who live in a compact community have significantly less chance of dying in a car crash -- not because they're better drivers, but because they drive less. (And car crashes, of course, are the leading killer of young people.) And they also tend to weigh less and have less risk of chronic diseases associated with obesity. Check out the press page for pdfs and fact sheets about the new research. And check out media coverage: front page of the Vancouver Sun and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer as well. But for a quick take, here are my top ten facts from the new Scorecard:

Nature needs people

I found this report by CNN more than a little disturbing. A new study by the Nature Conservancy found that Americans are visiting national parks less often. Researchers believe that 98 percent of the decline can be attributed to an increase in electronic entertainment: TV, video games, movie rentals, and the internet. People need nature -- national parks specifically. But national parks need people too. Without visitors and a strong constituency, our natural heritage is likely to be eroded by funding cuts, back-door administrative changes, and commercialization. (If you don't think the crown jewels of U.S. natural places are in jeopardy, click on the links above. I dare you.) The high water mark was 1987, when Americans averaged 1.2 visits to national parks a year. Nowadays, that figure is 0.9 -- less than one visit per person per year. I realize I'm a bit of an outdoor nut (and lucky enough to live in the national park treasure trove of the Pacific Northwest), but ... yikes, that's roughly my monthly average. However mediated by electronic phenomena modern life becomes, I can't imagine replacing the rawness of a direct encounter with nature. That's why next week, you may find me here, but you won't find me here.

Kyoto is a bargain

Amusing column in the Washington Post today. (And I mean "amusing" in a bitterly ironic sort of way.) The U.S. has spent roughly $300 billion on the Iraq war, with the final figure estimated to be in the ballpark of $500 billion to $1 trillion. Implementing the Kyoto Protocol, on the other hand, is estimated to cost the U.S. somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 - $350 billion (though those figures are speculative and, some would argue, inflated). By the way, the Kyoto Protocol was rejected by U.S. lawmakers because it would harm the economy too much.

Driving with alcohol

What lessons can America learn from Brazil’s energy independence?

Alcohol can lead to all kinds of unintended consequences -- but who knew it could lead to energy independence? Apparently, the Brazilians did. Processing sugar cane into ethanol is expected to help Brazil meet its rising energy demands in a big way. According to an article in the New York Times, officials expect that within a year the country will become fully energy self-sufficient, thanks largely to putting sugar in gas tanks. Brazil's story is encouraging, but it's hard to know precisely what conclusions to draw for North Americans.