CO-AUTHORED BY FERNANDO CÁZARES AND JUAN DECLET-BARRETO
Earlier this month, we got a chance to participate in a milestone event for both the Latino community and the environmental movement as part of the first ever GreenLatinos retreat. As anyone who’s ever partaken in a multi-generational leadership convention for any movement or community can relate to, the conversation ranged from the light hearted (“which tree would a Latino hug?”) to the heavy (“what are the pros and cons of working through large green groups vs. grassroots organizations to advance the environmental and public health needs of the Latino community?”). As we shared our personal stories, the diversity and synergy of our individual perspectives evoked a larger environmental narrative facing our nation: how to broaden and ground the imperative of sustainable environmental and energy policies and systems on the civil and economic rights of a growingly diverse population, with special attention to environmental justice and impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations.
In our respective careers, we have worked both on efforts to engage the Latino community in civic and volunteer participation and to include impacted Latino communities on mitigation efforts to climate change impacts. We now find ourselves within a large environmental organization—NRDC—that has been involved for a decade in Latino outreach and engagement. Since 2004, La Onda Verde has provided Spanish-language updates on NRDC’s wide-ranging programs, from toxic chemicals to water and air protection to both domestic and international audiences. Also that year, a joint report by NRDC and the National Hispanic Medical Association titled “Hidden Danger: Environmental Health Threats in the Latino Community” highlighted the fact that Latinos live in the nation’s most polluted urban and agricultural areas, which are particularly threatened by air pollution, agricultural pesticides, and other contaminants in the air and water, and called on government authorities, businesses, farm operators and landlords to provide warnings in Spanish to their constituents.
When the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) was approved by the House of Representatives in 2009, NRDC reached out and engaged leaders in the Latino business, public health, and civic communities to support its passage (unfortunately, ACES did not make it out of the Senate). Recognizing the importance of Latino leadership voices, Adrianna Quintero, Senior Attorney at NRDC, founded Voces Verdesas a nonpartisan Latino leadership coalition from business, labor, public health, academia, and the community to orchestrate a unified nonpartisan voice to advocate for sound environmental policies to fight climate change and support clean renewable energy. A 2011 joint report with Latino leaders from the Center for American Progress, National Wildlife Federation, and the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change titled“U.S. Latinos and Air Pollution: A Call to Action” built on the narrative of the disproportionate impact of air pollution on the Latino community and called on our leadership to take action.
While immigration reform rightfully remains a unifying cause for Latinos, we are also concerned about jobs, education, and yes, the environment. Dispelling the long-held misconception that Latinos don’t care about the environment, NRDC has conducted two national surveys demonstrating that we are deeply concerned about the threat of climate change and carbon pollution, and are overwhelmingly supportive of government action to combat them. This past January, NRDC and Latino Decisions completed a national poll showing that 9 out of 10 Latinos support the government taking action to combat the threat of climate change. We are no strangers to recycling, conservation, and supporting clean energy; this often comes from cultural traditions or financial constraints to reuse and extend the life of household items.
As the recent National Climate Assessment (NCA) shows, the impacts of climate change are already threatening the livelihoods and health of our communities through longer and harsher heat waves, droughts, floods, and wildfires. The NCA report made real and immediate the threats to our communities including California’s record breaking drought and the forecasted permanent flooding of Miami and south Florida due to sea level rise. When we talk about the impact of climate change on future generations, we should remember that Hispanics will make up a large segment of future Americans: the U.S. Census predicts that by 2060, 1 in 3 Americans will be of Latino background.
As we previously argued, climate change induced by carbon pollution is magnifying local warming in cities and making Latinos and other urban populations more vulnerable to death and illness from extreme heat. In addition, coastal states with large Latino populations like Florida are at risk due to sea-level rise, and disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks like those that spread dengue and Lyme disease are appearing in places that are now warm enough to sustain them.
We continue to work in advancing Latino leadership voices on the importance of the first-ever limits to carbon pollution from power plants and using geospatial technology and data to identify the health, socio-economic, and labor impacts of climate change in Latino and other vulnerable communities. As the retreat ended, we left energized knowing that there are many Latino leaders already laboring in every branch of the environmental tree. While there remain challenges to ensure that the environmental movement – from executive and policymaking boards to nonprofit and government entities – better reflects and responds to a growingly diverse population, we believe that we are headed in the right direction and call on more Latino and minority participation and leadership on this definitive environmental crisis of our generation – climate change.