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12.11.04

Red Ecosystems vs Blue Ecosystems

It has become commonplace to complain about the distorted view that standard maps of the presidential vote give (here is a good set of the maps I refer to in this post). Because the GOP does better in rural areas (though not by as much as in 2000), you wind up with a whole lot more red on the map, creating the false appearance of a Republican landslide. The county-by-county maps only make it worse*. So sophisticated observers look at cartograms in which the area of states and counties are made proportional to their population or electoral vote count.

But when it comes to the environment, there's some utility to the plain old geographically accurate maps. While there are such things as biodiversity hotspots and critical ecosystems, the environment is distributed roughly evenly over space. Standard maps help to make the point that most of the nation's environment is inhabited by conservatives.

There are two categories of environmental issues: cumulative and systemic. For systemic environmental issues like climate change, the usual electoral calculus applies -- pick up a few more votes around the fringes of the blue areas, so that we can tilt the White House and Congress into liberal hands, then implement a progressive national policy. But for more cumulative issues, like forestry, that's not enough. For practical and moral reasons, the cooperation of the locals is critical. Protecting the nation's public lands will require a much more sophisticated outreach (and listening) than simply pointing out that "conservation" and "conservative" have the same first ten letters. Some of the groundwork is already there, as rural conservatives begin to recognize that their representatives are selling out their quality of life to corporate interests. But the emergence of right-wing environmentalism is stymied by the perception that environmentalists are urban elitists -- a perception fueled by spillover of vitriol (on the part of both parties) from other issues such as gay rights.

*Incidentally, why is the lower-level breakdown always by county? Given how unsystematic the placing of county boundaries is, I would think a map showing the vote by precinct would be a better representation.

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