Why Minorities Care More About Climate Change

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"Why Minorities Care More About Climate Change"

A growing number of polls and research suggests that minorities are ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting serious climate policy.

For Asian-Americans, the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., climate change looms large among issues of concern. As Grist noted, “most Asian Americans hold particularly strong green values,” citing a 2012 survey of Asian-American political attitudes in the leadup to the presidential election, which found that 70 percent of Asian-Americans consider themselves environmentalist, compared to 41 percent of Americans overall, and 60 percent of Asian-American prioritize environmental protection over economic growth, compared to 41 percent overall.

African-Americans are similarly worried about climate change. A 2010 study from the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that “in many cases, minorities are equally as supportive, and often more supportive of national climate and energy policies, than white Americans.” In particular, 89 percent of blacks supported the regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, compared to 78 percent of whites.

What accounts for strong minority support of climate change policy?

Political affiliation: Minorities overwhelmingly voted Democratic in the 2012 election, so it makes sense that they would express progressive views on environmental issues. A recent poll found strong bipartisan support for climate change policy. The fact that minorities are adding their voices provides a stark contrast to the climate change deniers continually obstructing efforts to combat climate change, most recently in their quest to challenge President Obama’s climate agenda.

Environmental justice: Growing evidence suggests that minorities are disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of climate change. For instance, the NAACP found that of the six million Americans who live in close proximity to a coal plant, 39 percent of them are people of color. Additionally, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that African-Americans visit the emergency room for asthma at nearly 350 percent the average rate of whites, and thus air quality regulations are particularly important to them.

Global effects: Finally, many minorities have immigrated from countries acutely affected by climate change. Last year, more than 32 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters, most of whom lived in Asia and Africa. The Japan earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster rattled people all over East Asia, and extreme monsoons in India, caused by melting glaciers, have increased in recent years. Firsthand experience with the impact of climate change has made minorities firm believers in climate science.

Interestingly, Hispanics are less likely to express concern regarding climate change than blacks and Asians, but in many polls, they are still ahead of Caucasians. In a 2012 MPO Research Groups survey, 60.3 percent of Hispanics believed that humans contribute to climate change, compared to 67.3 percent of African Americans, 69.2 percent of Asian Americans, and only 56.7 percent of Caucasians. A 2012 survey conducted by the National Council of La Raza and the Sierra Club found that 77 percent of Latinos believe climate change is already happening, compared with only 52 percent of overall respondents. And in the Yale/George Mason study, 82 percent of Hispanics supported regulating carbon dioxide.

Marina Fang is an intern for ThinkProgress.

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