Latinos Agree: We Have To Address Climate Change

By Morriah Kaplan

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.

11 Responses to Latinos Agree: We Have To Address Climate Change

  1. Michael says:

    The fact is most folks simply are not moved to demand action, they get great benefits from fossil fuels and out of habit consume them, even though they know it causes climate change. The common folks seem to depend on their elected officials and other leaders to do the right thing. Unfortunately, there is too much profit in fossil fuels and most leaders are nearing 50 years old and want to maintain things as they are for the rest of their time.
    I agree, we need to do something…but the response is always tommorrow.

  2. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Perhaps Latinos still have a sufficiently joyful and associative culture that they are not driven to the depths of paranoia necessary to accept conspiracy theories about thousands of scientists, ME

  3. David B. Benson says:

    No weekend open thread.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Give him a fair go David, the second and third days are usually the worst, ME

  5. Paul Magnus says:

    Yep. Headline is spot on….


  6. Ozonator says:

    The Latino peoples come from a history that is probably more environmentally boom and bust than any other people in history. The Mayans appeared to be decimated by drought. The Aztecs beautiful land of mega-cities and forests were destroyed by disease and Spaniards clear cutting everything to try to make it look like their barren wastelands in Spain. North American rivers no longer making it to Mexico. The hundreds of North American tribes who also lost due to disease, resource destruction, and second-class citizenship status. Brazil’s use greater use of native resources on possibly thin soils of the Amazon. And now, hurricanes hitting Argentina which some meteorologists refuse to acknowledge.

  7. Surely a large part of the reason Latinos want something done about global warming is that Latin America, including Mexico, has been having severe droughts, caused or worsened by global warming. This has caused crop failures, which has caused large numbers to come to the U.S. for work.

    Also, if you are poor, an increase in summer heat is more of a hardship. If you have air-conditioning, your utility bills increase. If you don’t, or if you can’t afford to use it much, you suffer from the increased heat

  8. Paul Klinkman says:

    Go, Joe! Go, Joe! Sleep and low brain activity is good for you right now.

  9. Paul Klinkman says:

    When it’s your particular group taking the brunt of an environmental burden, the term “environmental justice” applies. An environmental justice issue doesn’t need to struggle against a whole raft of competing racial justice issues — environmental justice stands shoulder to shoulder with all the other issues. In every one of these cases, you feel unjustly set up behind the eight ball because of your skin tone or your name.

    Everybody else needs to learn that justice is always a shared commodity in society, or else nobody really has 100% justice.

  10. DylanT says:

    The worst thing we can do for our economy is sit back and do nothing about climate change. Glad to see that Latinos, one of the emerging voting blocs in the US, recognises this. I just wish we had that clarity of thought ten years ago, but it seems humans need to feel the prick of inaction before committing to any change.

  11. DylanT says:

    Spot on!