One bright spot in this dark presidential election is the political energy it has unleashed in the Latino community. In the streets, on social media, and (ojala) at the polls, the country is seeing that Latinos are a force to be reckoned with. We are organized, values-driven, and committed to creating a better world for our children.
Nowhere is this truer than in our defense of the environment. In the 17 years that I have been working in the environmental movement, I have witnessed Latino leadership grow around this common concern and common vision for the planet. With this current political climate before us, it’s important to take a look at why this support exists and how Latino leadership can make a difference.
A new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Voces Verdes, Nuestro Futuro: Climate Change and U.S. Latinos, takes a closer look at the passion with which Latinos care about climate change, how the community is impacted, and how Latinos can help spur progress.
Latinos are united in our passion for climate action. Support for government action to limit the impacts of global warming remains very high and more and more, Latino leadership is carrying the day on climate and clean energy. In poll after poll, Latino support for the environment outstrips responses from other ethnic groups and importantly, crosses party lines.
There are at least two main reasons why Latinos are ahead of the curve in their commitment to fighting global warming. The first is geographic vulnerability: More than 60 percent of U.S. Latinos reside in Florida, New York, California, and Texas, states that are already seeing dangerous heat waves, flooding, and air pollution related to climate change. Environmental injustice exacerbates this vulnerability, with Hispanic individuals 21 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites to live in heat islands and three times more likely to die from asthma than other ethnic groups.
Socioeconomic concerns heighten the Latino community’s vulnerability to extreme, unpredictable climate events. Because Latinos are likely to work outdoors?—?making up over 48 percent of the nation’s farm workers and close to 30 percent of construction workers?—?a heat wave that’s uncomfortable for some can prove deadly for them. Latinos are also three times more likely to die on the job due to heat-related medical problems. And when faced with a dangerous climate event, such as a string of smoggy days or an extreme flood, lack of access to resources makes it harder to bounce back. For the mother who gets fired for taking too many sick days to care for her asthmatic son, or the uninsured father who lands in the emergency room after a hurricane, extreme climate events can push their family from striving to struggling.
Latinos are also united by a vision for a more just, sustainable planet. We know that the transition to a low-carbon economy is already creating jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and technology, and are well positioned to benefit from that expansion of opportunity. At least 23,000 Latinos currently work in the solar industry, an industry that saw 123 percent growth between 2010 and 2015, and is growing! Clean energy and energy efficiency can also return cost savings and greater financial security, with a retrofit saving the typical household $437 per year. Add to that smarter urban design and greater health access, and it is clear that climate action provides gains across the board.
Hurricane Matthew causing havoc in the Southeast and wildfires scorching the West are vivid reminders of the kind of damage that climate change will cause and underscore that the need for climate action is urgent. Actions like President Obama’s Clean Power Plan which would for the first time limits carbon pollution from power plants, and the Paris Accord?—?the strongest-ever international treaty, have put us on a path to constructive cooperation. Our next president has the opportunity to build on these groundbreaking policies to clean up our air, shore up our climate and jumpstart our green economy… or dismantle them.
We have 27 million eligible Latino voters who see the impacts of climate change in places like Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, and across the eastern seaboard who know climate change is real and want leaders who are ready to act. Our influence should not be underestimated and our position should be understood: We stand for climate action, and we want it now.
Adrianna Quintero is Special Adviser to the NRDC Action Fund.