Selected category: Latino partnerships

Annual festival reinforces strong Latino connection to the environment

By Gabriela Zayas del Rio

To kick off National Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans from September 15th to October 15th, Americas Latino Eco Festival convened for its fifth year in Denver, Colorado. The festival, organized by the Americas for Conservation and the Arts in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, is a weekend-long gathering focused on the many ways in which Latinos and Latin Americans practice and promote environmental awareness.

This year’s festival focused on a call for unity and perseverance among environmental advocates to work together during challenging times. This idea is especially important as a swath of public health safeguards are under attack and as the Environmental Protection Agency faces steep budget cuts.

These actions would put Americans’ health and safety at risk and be felt by all, but Latinos in the U.S. and other minorities will be disproportionately impacted from weak environmental standards and enforcement. Already, nearly one in every two Latinos in the U.S. live in counties that frequently violate the standards for ground-level ozone, also known as smog, and Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites.

The festival’s activities covered a range of topics but a few key themes stood out to me as they reinforced Latinos and Latin Americans’ inherent connection to nature as a source of life, healing, and community:

  1. Sustainability is in our heritage and conservation is our legacy

For centuries, Latino communities have lived in sync with the land to prosper and to preserve resources for future generations. The festival devoted a session to the “acequia,” a system of communal irrigation canals to sustainably manage water distribution across vast, desert-like areas. We can learn immensely from this model of cooperation to more efficiently meet our needs while allowing nature to thrive.

Latinos are also the people who envisioned a zero-waste society long before it became a “modern” solution. Seven centuries ago, the Aztecs saw food waste as a resource that could be used productively in manufacturing and agriculture. They eliminated waste and found creative ways to incentivize recycling and reusing.

This unique take on sustainability is an ethic that continues in our culture today; for instance growing up in my household we reused everything, including repurposing butter containers as tupperware.

Moms Clean Air Force enjoying Americas Latina Eco-Festival

  1. Together we are stronger

The Latino community works tirelessly to bring communities together, to educate ourselves, and to demand equal access to a healthy environment. In the process, we try to be inclusive of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and nationality, demonstrating that we all have an indispensable role to play in environmental conservation.

The festival elevated this principle through an event organized with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that brought 400 kids from Title 1 schools together to learn actionable ways in which they can be citizen scientists and environmental stewards.

  1. Just transitions must be center stage

The need to acknowledge that environmental progress will not be achieved without equity and without empowering front-line communities was embedded throughout the festival.

Whether transitioning to clean energy, providing disaster relief, or advocating for any environmental policy, all must seek to be done justly, keeping the vulnerable communities in mind.

As a Puerto Rican entering her seventh year in the Diaspora, I was reaffirmed about my role in the environmental movement, especially now as my home and the Caribbean grapple with recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Hearing from water protectors and commemorating the legacy of activist Berta Cáceres and the likes, all heroes who risked or lost their lives protecting nature, I felt triumphant and convinced that we have the right voices and tools to shatter all misconceptions about Latinos and the environment.

The festival was a testament to the strong commitment of Latinos and Latin Americans to conservation issues. Along with prioritizing a strong economy, we place water conservation and reducing air pollution as the most important issues that should be addressed by our government. We also disproportionately support action to address climate change, see the value in protecting national parks to strengthen the economy, and believe that outdoor activities, such as hiking and fishing, are an integral part of our culture and community.

Our culture and heritage have persevered for centuries, and have left an indelible mark in the environmental movement and this country. Likewise, I fully expect Latinos and Latin Americans will continue to demonstrate their resilience in the face of climate change.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, Partners for Change| Comments are closed

EDF celebrates Hispanic Heritage – Together we can shape a bright future for America

Last week marked the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the culture, history and contributions of American citizens whose ancestry can be traced to Spain, Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Unlike most observance months, it runs from September 15 to October 15 to encompass the anniversaries of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

This year’s theme is “Shaping the Bright Future of America.” Despite the concerning policy directions and general tone of negativity toward Latinos, people of color, women and others that has emanated from the Trump White House; I still believe America’s future is bright.

I also believe, however, it is our responsibility as Latinos invested in the freedom and opportunities that the United States represents, to speak out and help shape national policies that preserve these fundamental ideals and principles. For this reason, EDF is collaborating with numerous Latino advocacy organizations to ensure the community is putting pressure on Congress to make the right votes for America.

Since Trump ran for President, his rhetoric has been deeply disturbing, to say the least. His dangerous attitude and harmful speech has informed the direction of his Administration, and led to policies (or the threat of policies) that negatively affect Latinos.

Of great concern is his proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Trump’s 30 percent cut would threaten the health and safety of all Americans, and threaten disaster preparedness.

Latino populations are much more vulnerable to environmental threats than average and when natural or man-made disasters strike, they are often affected the most.

When Flint, Michigan first started experiencing lead-contaminated water, the Latino community received information long after other residents and faced prolonged exposure to the effects of drinking the water. The lack of Spanish-language resources and fear of seeking government assistance due to immigration status or general mistrust posed and continues to pose extra dangers for the community.

I experienced this firsthand when I was deployed by then EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to engage the Flint community in the Agency’s emergency response efforts. Faith-based institutions and community organizations shared devastating stories about families not knowing the water was contaminated until their families outside of Michigan told them about the national news reports.

Then, families were afraid to pick up water filters and bottled water from Red Cross stations because of the National Guard presence and ID checks. Families even shielded away from receiving resources from churches fearing sting operations by ICE. And door-to-door distribution did not work for any Flint residents because of concern that warrants were also being served along with a 12-pack of water.

Flint may not be a natural disaster like Hurricane Harvey, but disaster relief services there are still lacking and mistrust still remains. This is especially true for the immigrant community in the Houston-metro area, where there are nearly 600,000 unauthorized immigrants, most of Hispanic descent. As NPR reported, some immigrants are afraid to go to the store for supplies or call for rescue because they worry about being arrested, deported, and separated from their families.

Scenarios such as these are both heartbreaking and infuriating.

Unfortunately, Trump’s attempt to hobble the EPA’s disaster preparedness and ability to protect human health and the environment is not the only policy that will negatively affect Latinos.

  • His frequent anti-Latino rhetoric, which has a negative impact on Latinos—even children in schools;
  • Pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man convicted for his unlawful treatment of Latinos and other minorities;
  • Ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the many mixed messages on what that means for the future of DACA recipients;
  • Slashing federal funding and support for programs that fuel the economy, provide access to health care, and improve quality of life.

Because of this, or perhaps in spite of it, I am even more proud of my heritage and feel fortunate to be in a position to advocate for my community at EDF and collaborate with so many inspirational Latino leaders such as Mi Familia Vota, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Council of La Raza Action Fund, Hispanic Federation, Voto Latino, National Association of Latino Elected Officials, Latino Victory Project, and GreenLatinos.

This fantastic group of partners are helping EDF make the most impact through motivating events such as the National GreenLatinos summit, and activities and outreach designed to inform Latino lawmakers, young Latino voters, and the broader Latino community about environmental issues and public health.

I invite you to celebrate the accomplishments, culture and history of the Latino-Americans you know and admire by taking a stand with us to find long-term safeguards and solutions for our environment. For 50 years, we at EDF have believed that all of us in the US, joined by our friends across the globe, can be a force for positive change. And that is something that can surely make our future bright!

Please join me in “Shaping the Bright Future of America” by taking action during Hispanic Heritage Month:

  • Use the Register. Ignite. Strive. Engage (RISE) toolkit to shift the Hispanic Heritage cultural celebration to a month of action around voter registration and community organizing
  • Meet & Greet counterparts in the Latino/Environment space at the GreenLatinos Live! event
  • Write a blog on how the EPA budget and the cuts that will harm Latino communities
Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Partners for Change| Comments are closed

Latino Voters Agree: Now is the time to reduce pollution and invest in clean energy

By Lucía Oliva Hennelly, EDF Campaign Manager, New Climate Partnerships & Andy Vargas, EDF Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellow.

How important do you think it is that the next President and new Congress take steps to reduce smog and air pollution? What about actions to develop clean energy sources like wind and solar power?

These are a questions asked by Latino Decisions, a leading national polling firm, in a representative national poll of Latinos who voted in the 2016 elections. Latino Decisions research released this week shows that 75 percent of Latino voters believe it is extremely or very important that the next President and Congress take steps to reduce smog and air pollution. And 71 percent of Latino voters believe it is extremely or very important that the next President and Congress take steps to pass legislation to aggressively combat climate change. This was also found in key states including Arizona, Colorado,  North Carolina, and Nevada.

While the results should not be surprising, they are noteworthy in a month when President-elect Donald Trump has nominated an environmental antagonist to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the CEO of ExxonMobil to lead the State Department.capture

These findings demonstrate that Latino communities care deeply about our environment, our changing climate, and how this impacts our families. The assumption that Latino voters only care about immigration reform — despite being disproportionately impacted by issues like air pollution and toxic exposure – needs to be discarded. Read More »

Also posted in Energy, Health, Jobs| Comments are closed

What would it mean for Los Angeles to go 100% renewable?

By Irene Burga, Tom Graff Fellow for the Oil and Gas Program

10182500174_6070b2f074_kThe Los Angeles City Council recently passed a unanimous resolution requiring Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – the largest municipally-owned utility in the country — to study how the city can achieve a 100% clean energy future. With help from research partners, including academic institutions, the U.S. Department of Energy, and environmental and consumer groups, the study has the potential to become a foundational roadmap for running the utility on only clean and renewable energy.

California currently has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, with half of the state’s energy supply powered by renewable electricity by 2030. To achieve these targets, it is imperative for the state to look seriously at how to get off of fossil fuel dependency for our energy needs. Utilities and cities can be the key to reaching those climate goals. Read More »

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Clean Energy: An Emerging Path for Latino Communities

chciBy: Andy Vargas, EDF Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellow

Hispanic Heritage Month is in full swing! It has also been a welcome way to kick off my placement with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellow. Each year, CHCI marks Hispanic Heritage Month with a Public Policy Conference elevating the issues most important to Latino communities. This year, I had the pleasure of representing both CHCI and EDF, introducing a panel on an emerging and critical topic for Latinos: clean energy.

Clean energy is key to protecting Latino communities from disproportionate impacts of climate change and pollution. At last week’s conference, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) highlighted that half the U.S. Latino population currently lives in the country’s most polluted cities. NHLA also noted that asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are more prevalent in inner city Latino communities near carbon-producing power plants.

Read More »

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Eastside Sol Celebrates Community, Culture, and Clean Energy in Los Angeles

ess-2016-dancing-crowdBy: Luis Gutierrez, Senior Associate, Leadership for Urban Renewal Network (LURN) and Jorge Madrid, CA Campaign Director, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

It’s a warm, sunny day in August at the iconic Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, California. More than 400 local residents have come together to dance to the classic tunes of Selena and the cumbia-rock fusion of El Conjunto Nueva Ola – the entire stage powered by solar. They’re enjoying delicious vegan treats, participating in a live mural art project, and screen printing their own reusable tote bags. Many are collecting free shade trees to plant at home, learning about bicycle safety and receiving free helmets, and discovering information about a new vehicle trade-in program that allows Californians to swap out their older vehicles for a new or used electric car. So what exactly is this celebration of music, art, culture, and clean energy? It’s Eastside Sol.

Event organizers Jorge Madrid and Luis Gutierrez reflect on the origins of Eastside Sol, its driving principles, and what’s in store for the future.

Read More »

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