When I began trying to rally Latino leaders around climate change in 2004, I raised a few eyebrows: “Does she know the number of Latinos without health insurance? Don’t Latinos really only rally around immigration reform? Aren’t jobs and the economy so much more important?
With the plethora of important issues facing Latino communities, I wasn’t surprised that the informal consensus was climate change was not a Latino issue. Among Latinos, however, we knew we cared deeply.
Today, there is new consensus: Our issues are interrelated, and climate change is one of them.
Polls from the past few years show that Latinos have consistently been ahead of the curve in understanding the impact and risk that climate change presents. For many striving to build a solid future for their families, living paycheck-to-paycheck or unable to access health insurance, an extreme weather event could be what pushes them over the edge.
The impacts are also real. One in two Latinos still lives in counties that frequently violate air quality standards. Higher temperatures lead to smoggier days that will only make this worse and accelerate the already evident uptick in asthma attacks and the impacts on families like missed work and school days.
Latino workers are also heavily impacted since we make up a large part of the outdoor workforce in the construction, agricultural and landscaping trades which are all more likely to be exposed to poor air quality and dangerous or even deadly heat waves.
Add to this the fact that low-lying neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, South Florida, and the Gulf Coast threatened by sea level rise, are home to millions of Hispanic – Americans and you’ll begin to understand why a majority of Latinos believe they will be impacted by climate change and an overwhelming nine out of ten Latinos support government action on climate change.
But this is not simply a story about danger; there is also a vast opportunity. Transitioning to low-carbon fuel sources has already created millions of new jobs, and promises to create millions more. Updating our infrastructure, strengthening our grid, and preparing our healthcare system for climate disasters are other crosscutting, win-win projects. Investing in STEM education and vocational training for Latino communities will set us up for success in an increasingly competitive, global economy.
Latino leaders are responding to this opportunity with a wave of innovative policy proposals. The voices of organizations and advocates across the country like the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda have elevated climate change to the core of our legislative agenda. Landmark climate legislation in California, supported by Sen. Kevin de Leon, Asm. Eduardo Garcia, Asm. Christina Garcia, Ricardo Lara and other Latino leaders, will ensure California remains a leader in green innovation and environmental justice.
Latino leadership from perhaps the most notable environmental leader in Congress today, Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, continues to spur debate and encourage action. Even across party lines, Republican Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida made the courageous decision to break with his party and advocate for the future of his constituents in Miami, already at ground zero of sea level rise.
The Hispanic vote is poised to have a tremendous impact this year now that 17% more Latinos will be eligible to vote this year than in 2012, a record 27.3 million. Latinos constitute key blocs in important battleground states, including Nevada, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida.
Hillary Clinton has pledged to continue President Obama’s strong environmental legacy, supporting the Clean Power Plan, the international Paris Agreement, and other landmark achievements that represent the greatest strides our country has made thus far in the fight against climate change. On the other hand, Donald Trump has called climate change “a Chinese hoax” and promises to renege on our international and national commitments to curbing dangerous environmental change. Meanwhile he’s building a sea wall to protect his properties from climate induced flooding.
The choice we face for this election boils down to this: Will we continue with our last best chance to avert catastrophic warning, or will we spend the critical 4-8 years with a president who denies science to score political points?
Now is the time to make our voices heard. Before voter registration closes in your state, make sure that everyone eligible to vote in November has the chance to cast his or her ballot. Whether your top issue is the economy, immigration, justice, or healthcare, it is fundamentally reliant on a stable, healthy planet.
Our decision as a nation goes beyond the political climate of the next four years; it will shape the climate and state of the planet for generations to come.
Adrianna Quintero is a senior adviser to the NRDC Action Fund.