Code blue.

Code blue.

Code blue.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Aug. 1 2006 10:42 AM

Code Blue

Could global warming melt the Republican majority?


Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Heat Wave: As Washington braces for another August of record-breaking heat, the Republican leadership has at last decided on its response to global warming: From now on, Congress will begin its August recess in July.

The success of Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, has prompted a flurry of articles on how global warming will transform our politics. Michael Grunwald imagines "a climate-conscious politics … where a policy's atmospheric costs would be evaluated along with its fiscal costs, a politics of inconvenient truths." Clive Crook suggests a long-term plan to lower the long-term impact of climate change, but points out that we'll need policies to adapt to it as well: "Whatever happens, we will have to live with higher temperatures."


Every night since they saw the Gore movie, my children have followed its cue to pray that people have the courage to change. But as both Grunwald and Crook observe, the long term is something Washington just doesn't do. If we want action on climate change, we need to put it in terms that, even in these deeply partisan times, the political world can understand.

Never mind the impact of global warming on the migratory patterns of the black-throated blue warbler. Those concerned about the long-term survival of the Republican species should worry that climate change may fundamentally alter the migratory patterns of the American voter.

Southward, Ho!: One of the defining trends of the past 40 years has been the dramatic shift in population from the Frost Belt to the Sunbelt. In 1960, the three largest northeastern states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts had a combined 93 electoral votes. Now they have 64. People voted with their feet, and we know where they went: In 1960, Texas and Florida had a total of 34 electoral votes; now those two states have 61.

Climate wasn't the only reason the U.S. population shifted from north to south, but it was a significant one. For Arizona to grow from 4 electoral votes in 1960 to 10 today, while Iowa shrank from 10 to 7, plenty of people must have been willing to brave the desert summer to escape another winter on the plains.

The southern migration of American politics has brought on a long, painful drought for the Democratic Party. For a century, the South had been a Democratic stronghold. But the Sunbelt's population began to explode just as the South was turning away, punishing Democrats for doing the right thing in the '60s by standing up for civil rights and opposing the war in Vietnam.

Apart from a few states on the Pacific Coast and in the mid-Atlantic, Democrats are now a captive party of the Northern Tier. We haven't won an electoral vote in the South so far this century.

Seeing Red: In fact, the electoral map looks increasingly like the weather map in USA Today: Most red and orange states are red; most blue and green states are blue. If you chart the average temperature since 1960, you might as well be looking at Karl Rove's list of target states.