Earth Day 2014: Time for Latino Leadership on Climate Change

Jorge-MadridToday is Earth Day, and the tens of millions of U.S. Latinos who breathe in the country’s dirtiest air, and often live in communities threatened by climate change, have reason to reflect and act!

2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental U.S., and 2013 was tied for the fourth hottest globally. When extreme weather like heat waves and super storms, which are projected to increase with climate change, hit the country’s crops, agricultural workers are devastated, poor people of color are disproportionately displaced from their homes, and those living with the worst air quality are even more at-risk for respiratory and heart related death (leading to some 7,000 additional fatalities each year).

And there’s more bad news regarding climate change. Take a look at these extreme heat projections in the West and Southwest U.S. for 2030. Or, check out sea-level rise projections in places like Miami and New York City for 2050, along with the corresponding threats for supercharged storms.

Notice something?

Those regions have the highest concentration of Latinos and other people of color, and that number will only continue to grow. It doesn’t take a scientist to see that two freight trains — Latino population growth and extreme weather driven by climate change — are heading straight 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 is critical to answering this question.

National polling data tells us that Latino voters overwhelmingly support action to fight climate change and pollution. Seventy-four percent of Latinos believe climate change is a “serious problem” — almost 10 percent more than the national average among all American adults. A full 86 percent of Latinos strongly support President Obama taking action to reduce pollution that causes climate change. Gender, income, education, nationality, and even political party affiliation do not significantly change the facts on Latinos’ commitment to tackling climate change.

Now for the exciting part: fighting back and adapting presents one of the greatest opportunities to rebuild and enhance the economy, upgrade infrastructure and homes, strengthen neighborhoods, and improve public health in the places that need it most.

Why? Because it will require major investments in clean energy, more green space and trees, more bike paths and clean transportation, and the cleaner air that goes with it. Ditching fossil fuels and moving towards clean energy will stop cooking our planet and poisoning our communities, and start creating new jobs and economic mobility.

I’ve written before that the clean economy is an opportunity for U.S. Latinos, creating new demand for goods and services, new businesses and new jobs. Overwhelmingly, Latino communities support clean energy, with some 86 percent say they prefer the country to invest in clean energy over fossil fuels.

So there’s the challenge, and the opportunity…but what are we going to do about it?

Stay connected to EDF and Voces Verdes  to find out how you can become more involved. We’re working to elevate Latino voices in the climate movement and we need your help.

And not just because it is Earth Day, but because future U.S. Latinos are depending on us!

This post was adapted from an earlier version on Voces Verdes

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