I love California in the summertime, and Fourth of July weekend is one of my favorite holidays. But it is getting excruciatingly HOT out here, and according to the best science, it is going to get much hotter.
This past weekend the West Coast broke nearly every temperature record on the books, well ahead of August and September, which are usually the hottest months of the year.
And last year was the hottest year on record for the continental United States. Crops were devastated, cities were hit by supercharged storms, and people — mostly the poor — suffered and died amid some of the most destructive extreme weather events in our history. All told, the United States spent more than $110 billion on weather related disasters in 2012.
Those regions, incidentally, are going to have the largest concentrations of people of color in the country, and Latinos will be the fastest growing part of that demographic. It doesn’t take a scientist to see that two freight trains — Latino population growth and extreme weather driven by climate change — are heading directly towards each other.
So will the climate change story end in disaster? Or could this be an opportunity to adapt to and overcome a great challenge? Latino leadership will be key to answering this question.
National polling data tells us that Latino voters see that something is terribly wrong, and overwhelmingly support action to fix it. Seventy-four percent of Latinos polled earlier this year believe climate change is a “serious problem” — almost 10 percent higher than the national average among all American adults. Another poll tells us that 86 percent of Latinos strongly support President Obama taking action to reduce pollution that causes climate change. What’s more, gender, income, education, nativity and even party affiliation do not significantly move the needle on Latinos’ commitment to tackling climate change.
Now for the exciting part: adapting to climate change will present one of the greatest opportunities to rebuild and enhance our infrastructure and economy, and to improve our public health. Why? Because adaptation will require major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, as well as more green space and trees in our cities and more reliable (and low-carbon) transportation. We also need to stop burning the fossil fuels that are cooking our planet and polluting our air.
For a start, why not begin capturing all that free solar energy with rooftop solar panels? This will reduce the strain on our electricity grid, and allow communities to stay cool without breaking the bank on the energy costs of air conditioning. Better still, building out solar will be good for the economy. In California, my home state, 92 percent of Latino voters want to increase the use of renewable energy, and 87 percent agreed that “growing the state’s solar energy industry will create new jobs in California.”
I’ve written before that the Clean Energy economy is an opportunity for Latinos, creating new demand for goods and services, new businesses, and new jobs. After all, somebody has to design and install all those solar panels, plant the trees, weatherize the homes and businesses, and operate and maintain our mass transit systems. That’s an easy argument to make to Latinos voters, 86 percent of whom said that they would prefer the country to invest in clean, renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels.
Last week I joined Latino leaders from Voces Verdes and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) to have a conversation about the need for better and cleaner infrastructure in a warming world. And President Obama made it clear last week that his administration will double down on climate change, calling for all of us to “seize the future.”
As the polls show, the President has overwhelming support for his initiative from Latinos in this country. It’s time for Latino leaders to follow suit by being at the forefront of those calling for action on climate change.
Jorge Madrid is a Tom Graff fellow at Environmental Defense Fund. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Voces Verdes, and a former Graduate Fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and the California Latino Caucus Institute.