Yes We Care

Yes we care, that’s the message Latinos in the United States delivered loud and clear in a new poll by Latino Decisions for the Natural Resources Defense Council. A majority of us, Latinos in the U.S. care about fighting climate change. We care because we know it’s the environmental scourge of our time. We care because it’s threatening our families and our communities. And we want the country to take action now against the dangers we’re already seeing from this growing threat.

We’ve seen it before and this poll again dramatically emphasizes the point. In fact, 9 out 10 Latinos want action against climate change. That’s a compelling margin of support. And this support also crosses party lines with 68 percent of Republican Latinos say that it is somewhat to extremely important for our government to tackle global warming and climate change. Eighty-seven percent of Independents agree with this view while 97% of democratic respondents hold this belief.

On air pollution support is even greater. Ninety-two percent of Republican Latinos think it is somewhat to extremely important for our government to tackle air pollution. The number for Independent respondents is 98 percent while 99% of self-identified Democratic respondents agree with this view.

According to Latino Decisions, the pollsters who conducted the survey, the intensity with which Latinos support climate action and environmental protections is second only to the level of support they’ve seen in comparable polls for immigration reform policies. Yet political leaders have failed to talk to Latinos about carbon pollution, clear water and clean air. They continue to miss out on this valuable support by not telling us what they’re doing to address these concerns. We want to know what’s being done. We care.

We have seen this concern reflected on environmental measures before. In November 2006, massive Latino turnout in California voted 84 percent in favor of the largest water/park bond in U.S. history carrying Proposition 84 to victory. Similarly, in 2010, exit polling indicated that areas with high percentages of Latino voters were overwhelmingly against Proposition 23, which would have killed California’s landmark climate law, AB 32, and the emerging clean energy economy.

Time and again the message is: start talking to Latinos.

Hispanics will soon become the dominant ethnic group in the nation's most populous state, California. According to California Governor Jerry Brown’s projections, Latinos are set to surpass whites as the new majority in March of this year.  It’ll add urgency to the need to talk and listen to us.

In 2012, twelve million Hispanics voted in the presidential elections (10 percent of the U.S. electorate) and this number is expected to double to 20 percent by 2030. And we’re passionate about taking action against climate change.

Importantly, this poll also looked at the why behind this support and what came up most often and with most intensity in both polling and in focus groups that preceded the polling were aspirational reasons like leaving a better, cleaner, healthier world for the next generation. Specifically, 90 percent of Latinos feel at least somewhat convinced of our duty to act now to protect the well-being of the next generation so that our children and grandchildren will have safe and clean communities and a healthier planet. Concerns over the health-effects of a worsening environment are also strong motivating factors.

Economic and religious considerations did not rise to the level of these other concerns. Perhaps this is because many Latinos still feel that despite their challenges, our community is still poised to fulfill our American dream.

A September 2012 Fox News Latino poll found that Latinos believe the next generation of Latinos in the United States will be better off than they are today. A recent poll by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health echoes this revealing that “when Latino parents of children under age 18 are asked about their children’s futures, the majority are optimistic about the opportunities their children would have, and despite reporting problems and concerns of various kinds, most Latinos report high levels of satisfaction when asked about their lives in general.”

Many of us and our parents came to this country because it was—and for most Latinos still is—the land of opportunity, and as such we still believe that here anything is possible. It follows that we would be eager to support leaders who can help us achieve that dream through clean energy jobs, strong carbon limits, and healthier air. And yet, policymakers continue to miss out on this opportunity to cultivate awareness and take a stance. It’s time to start talking about what’s possible and mobilizing the people who believe we can do it.

Starting the conversation will also require us to recognize that while traditional “environmentalist” messaging and imagery of the lone hiker on the pristine trail may resonate with the individualistic tendencies of some, Latinos are more likely to respond to the interconnected, global aspect of environmental concerns, as this poll shows. Enjoying the outdoors with our family, protecting the earth, water, and natural resources here and abroad for our children and family, are all elements connected to our innate sense of community.

This deep personal sense of our global interconnectedness not only to our family members who join us for dinner around the table every night, but for our extended network of cousins, aunts and grandparents whether they live here in the U.S. or abroad, is reflected in this polling which shows us that protecting family here and abroad are strong motivators to act on climate. This sense of duty to the close and extended family as well as concerns that family members abroad may not be as resilient or able to cope with climate impacts—was reflected in focus group research conducted last summer.

Latinos intuitively recognize and viscerally feel the interconnectivity of the heritage that we share with our neighbors abroad. Because of this global kinship, it’s only natural when Latinos think about the impacts of climate change on the future of our environment that we think about it in terms of the world. When asked if they thought about these concerns in terms of themselves, their families, community, country, entire world, or something else; the most common response was out of a concern for the “entire world.” Transnational ties Latinos share with family and their ancestral homeland account for this more global perspective. In fact, 63 percent were “somewhat to very worried” about environmental problems facing families abroad.

So while we may still be a step away from seeing Latinos march in great numbers on climate, those who ignore these findings do so at their peril. Latinos are speaking up loud and clear: it's time to talk to us and show us how we plan to cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate chaos, imperiling our communities and threatening our children's future.

We know our country can deliver.