We just updated our Cascadia Scorecard—and the news ain’t great, my friends.
- Population: As we reported earlier in the year, the final full-year figures for 2007 fertility trends came in—and the Pacific Northwest is in the middle a modest baby boom. Birthrates were up in every age group, including teens. And there’s some evidence that unintended births are on the rise. Birthrates are the component of population growth over which Northwesterners themselves have the most control; and population growth, in turn, is a contributor to sprawl, rising energy consumption, and other trends we’d like to see less of. Better contraceptive access and comprehensive sex education is critical to the region’s success in reducing unintended pregnancies, particularly in the Northwest states.
- Energy: We’ve made our final estimate of energy spending in the Northwest states, and the tab for 2008 fossil fuel imports came to $28.5 billion dollars. That includes $16 billion for Washington, $9 billion for Oregon, and $3.5 billion for Idaho—quite a drain, for states that produces virtually no fossil fuels of its own. Also, we got a bit more data on gasoline consumption towards the end of the year; Idaho’s gas consumption went up unexpectedly in December.
- Economy: Employment figures in the Northwest states collapsed at the end of 2008. And job losses accelerated at the beginning of 2009. Because of the spike in year-end unemployment numbers, the Scorecard’s 2008 economy index saw its steepest year-over-year decline since the early 1980s. But these are just preliminary figures: the region does a surprisingly poor job at tracking the finances of ordinary families, so it’ll take a while for the statisticians to crunch the numbers on poverty and middle class incomes.
- Sprawl: I tweaked our numbers a bit, to better identify suburban and urban residents—rather than rural residents who happen to live in large urban counties. It’s a bit of an arbitrary distinction, but I like the new methods better. So if you compare the current Scorecard figures with a past edition, you’ll see some minor differences.
Between higher fertility rates, a smaller decline in gas consumption than we’d previously estimated, and sharply higher unemployment—along with a couple of other new numbers we’ll mention in a few weeks—the Pacific Northwest lost ground overall on the Scorecard’s metrics. This suggests that we’ve moved farther away from sustainability: people are going through genuine hardships, and natural systems are still under stress.
Here’s hoping for some rosier figures later in the year!