Latinos Unidos for Climate Action

We need to elevate our voices for our generation, our families around the world, our children, our health, our future.

By Daniela Salazar

Hurricane Matthew broke flooding records last week, leaving death and destruction in the southeast coast of the U.S . making clear the amplification effects of climate change. Meanwhile, there are over 56 million Latinos living in the U.S. — 19 percent of whom live in Florida — and nine out of ten of them want climate action. In fact, Latino support for climate action is second only to immigration reform.

Infographic from NRDC & Voces Verdes report: Nuestro Futuro: Climate Change and U.S. Latinos

Climate change is changing the weather, and in the past few years the world has experienced unusually severe extreme weather. It is offensive to see how our society still denies climate change, and how some media and influencers think the connection between storms and climate change is just a conspiracy theory. But the link is simple and scary: climate change makes hurricanes more dangerous. Why? Seas are getting warmer, and hurricanes fuel off of this heat. Additionally, sea level rise increases the reach of the storm flow — which intensifies flooding wherever the hurricane goes.

Latinos in the U.S. are particularly vulnerable to climate-related threats because of where they live: Latinos make up over 40 percent of the population in eight Florida cities that will most certainly flood during future high tides. The cost to protect these populations and property from unavoidable natural disasters amplified by climate change is up to $900 billion through 2100.

Heavy rain and flooding also increase mental health conditions including anxiety, suicidal thoughts and stress-related disorders. In 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, an analysis found a correlation between exposure to the hurricane and an increase of stress-induced abnormal labor. In addition to health risks, flooding and heavy rain also create sanitation and infrastructure hazards by threatening water treatment facilities, roads, bridges and power plants.

The challenges climate change poses to the health, economy and future of Latinos in the U.S. have fueled this community to support climate action. We don’t have to sacrifice the economy to protect the environment — or vice versa — and Latinos know it: 59 percent of Latinos believe environmental progress is good for economic opportunity and job growth. Latinos want climate action; they want the government to put limits on carbon pollution and transition away from dirty fossil fuels.

This past week was important for climate action. We experienced the consequences of a warming planet with the tragedy that Hurricane Mathew brought to Haiti and the U.S. southeast coast. But we also gave a historic step toward climate action. On 5 October 2016, the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement was achieved.The Paris Agreement’s goal is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Countries will have to put forward their efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts. This agreement is an expression of global commitment towards protecting our planet, our health, and economies; and as of last week this agreement is official — it is real and will become fully operational by the end of this year.

We as Latinos, both U.S. citizens and immigrants, are aware of climate change’s serious impact in the U.S. and other parts of the world — especially Latin America. International leaders and the U.S. government need to hear from us Latinos because we understand the need for climate action. We need to ensure that leading countries like the U.S. meet their international obligations in the Paris Agreement and help other countries to financially deal with the effects of climate change.

At the local level, Latinos need to actively participate as citizens by registering to vote and electing leaders that will lead communities toward clean and renewable energy. Citizens can also participate in public hearings and submit comments on plans to fully implement the Clean Power Plan, which will bring great benefits for all Americans including: reduction of energy bills for households and businesses, jobs creations, and access toclean power for communities across the country. As community leaders, Latinos must push decision makers in government and industry to be creative and integrate sustainability into their decisions.

Across the U.S. Latinos are united for climate action. We need to work together and celebrate Latinos’ leadership and commitment to environmental protection. It is in our history and culture to honor Mother Nature; and now more than ever, we need to elevate our voices for our generation, our families around the world, our children, our health, our future.