Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Holy Shit, The Cretaceous Coast!

Early Cretaceous Eath

We've got an election coming up in the United States. It's a midterm, which too many voters tend to think of like a bye week, but it's important. Go vote on November 4.

When you do, think about all the factors beyond your control that lead to the outcome of an election. Sometimes it's something stupid one of the candidates said or did to shoot themselves in the foot. Sometimes it's a wave of backlash against a single policy. And sometimes it's a 100-million-year-old geographic feature that used to be where you live.
Wait What?
I really hope some of you made this exact face.

That's the case for people living on the Cretaceous Coast, anyway. The Cretaceous Coast is, for the most part, a decidedly non-coastal region that stretches from Mississippi to the Carolinas. It's not easily distinguished on a modern topographical map, but in the Cretaceous Period it looked like this:
Late Cretaceous North America
This looks different from the one at the top of this post because they are millions of years apart
Pretty easy to see right? Well, you can also see it on a county-based electoral map, like this one from 2012:
Seriously though, look back and forth. It's eerie.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Correlation isn't the same as causation, dummy," you sneer smugly as you sip your venti pumpkin spice latte and pat yourself on the back. Ordinarily, I'd agree with you. But not today. Today you're going to spit that pumpkin spice right back out onto your keyboard, you pretentious hipster. Because the Cretaceous Coast is demonstrably responsible for that strip of blue counties in the South.

Here's how it works: between 129 and 65 million years ago, the Cretaceous Coast was, in fact, a coast. That meant it was a hotbed of aquatic life, like plankton. When the water started receding, that life stayed behind and died, leaving a massive deposit of organic material. If you know anything about agriculture (and why wouldn't you in this day and age?), you know that organic material leads to ideal growing conditions for crops.
Human Reaper Larva
It can also be used to generate a representative of your race while all the actual humans are systematically destroyed.
Fast forward about 64,999,800 years to the early 1800s, and you've got yourself an agrarian, slave-based economy with nutrient-rich soil and an unprecedented boom in a cash crop (cotton) thanks to new industrial advances. The former Cretaceous Coast was primo real estate for plantation owners because it had some of the most hospitable soil on Earth for the humble cotton plant.

Not so hospitable for human rights, though
Now, I don't know if you were aware of this, but a lot of that cotton was actually picked by slaves. And at the time, chattel slavery was an institution that consisted almost entirely of white owners and black slaves. After the Civil War brought slavery to an end, most of those black slaves stayed where they were. Their families were there, and the only work many of them knew was there as well...and this time, they'd get paid to do it.

Eventually, those former slaves gained the right to vote. Some time later, they gained the actual ability to vote without being turned away at the polls or simply lynched for trying. Certain events transpired and certain party platforms were adopted, too complicated to go into here, that led to black voters almost universally voting for democrats in every election.

And that's how a geologic feature that hasn't been around since the dinosaurs continues to affect the political landscape of the American south to this very day.

Holy Shit.

And seriously, vote.

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