Following the hottest year on record — one that recorded over 3,000 monthly records for heat, rain, and snow — the public is starting to agree that climate change might, in fact, be real. Though we all have a stake in an issue that will continue to cause extreme weather events, escalate costs and damages, and pose a grave public health threat, one community in particular is taking notice: Latinos.
On Wednesday, House Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) hosted Adrianna Quintero from Voces Verdes, and Dan Lashof from the National Resources Defense Council, to discuss the effects of climate change, particularly for the Latino community.
Political strategist Maria Cardona, in attendance at the briefing, pointed out that immigration is not the only issue that invokes strong reactions from Latinos. A recent NRDC poll found that 74 percent of Latinos — and 65 percent of all Americans — think that climate change is a serious issue. Sixty-nine percent of Latinos believe that we have to do more to combat climate change, and 64 percent agree with the President that addressing climate change should be a priority in his second term.
There are a number of reasons why climate change will prove to be particularly harmful for Latinos, possibly explaining the overwhelming Latino support for curbing its effects. To begin with, communities of color and low-income groups are typically most exposed to the harshest extremes of climate change. Latinos disproportionately live in poverty and, as a group, are least likely to have health insurance. Latinos also face high levels of unemployment. Were a natural disaster to strike, Latinos would be hit the hardest.
Quintero pointed out that we have already seen this take place among Latino communities in New York and New Jersey impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Many in these communities are still trying to rebuild. Quintero also pointed to a lack of property insurance and the language barrier as factors that could make it difficult for Latinos to weather the proverbial storm.
Other factors that exacerbate climate change for Latinos may be more subtle, but important nonetheless. Latinos are concentrated in coastal areas, which are particularly susceptible to flooding. Forty-percent of Florida, a state where more than one in five residents is Latino, has been designated by FEMA as flood hazard zones.
There are also disproportionate numbers of Latinos living in “heat vulnerable areas,” such as Southern California and the Southwestern United States. These areas are more likely to face increasingly serious and frequent heat waves. Warmer temperatures also worsen air pollution, necessitating more restricted activity days and posing serious health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost one out of every two Latinos already lives in a county that fails to meet the EPA’s air-quality regulations. And as of 2008, 4.7 million Latinos had been diagnosed with asthma. The situation only stands to worsen as global temperatures rise.
Climate change also threatens the livelihoods of the Latino community. The agricultural industry — of which Latinos comprise the majority of the labor force — will be greatly affected by heat waves, droughts, severe storms, and other disastrous effects of climate change.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that 68 percent of the Latinos polled by the NRDC believe that the president should use his authority to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. He should use the bully pulpit to draw attention to the serious consequences of letting global warming continue unchecked. He should leverage his executive authority and the Clean Air Act to establish standards, and close the loopholes that exist for polluting power plants. He should urge action to decrease the number of asthma diagnoses, prevent restricted activity days associated with bad air quality, and save lives and property.
The growing Latino community — and America as a whole — is depending on it.
Morriah Kaplan is an intern with Progress 2050 at the Center for American Progress.