Latinos Call for Climate Action

A coalition of prominent Latino organizations is urging leaders to address the central environmental challenge of our time.

Every presidential election year, our nation's fast-growing Latino community lays out its goals and priorities through an umbrella group called the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of some 40 civil rights and policy organizations nationwide. A quadrennial review of challenge and aspiration, the agenda has become a blueprint for the kind of future Latino Americans hope to build and a window into their most pressing concerns.

It's no surprise, then, that this year the group is calling for real action to fight the growing dangers of climate change.

The central environmental challenge of our time, climate change imposes heavy burdens on Latino Americans living on the front lines of climate chaos. Rising seas threaten to swamp low-lying Latino neighborhoods in south Florida and along the Texas Gulf Coast. Drought puts at risk the livelihood of Latino farmworkers in places like California and Colorado. Extreme heat aggravates respiratory ills and other ailments for Latinos who work outdoors in states like New Mexico and Arizona. And air pollution made worse by rising temperatures imposes hazards on Latinos living near factories and refineries in places like Chicago, New Orleans, and Houston.

Now, this coalition of the nation's leading Latino organizations has pulled together these disparate threads of discontent to call for action with a single voice. They're rightly demanding cuts in the dangerous carbon pollution that's disrupting our climate, investments that help make their communities more resilient to the threats already baked in, and full participation in the manifest benefits of a responsible strategy for fighting climate change.

That means access to green jobs and economic growth as we shift from the dirty fossil fuels that are driving climate change to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future. It means enjoying the natural splendor set aside for all Americans through our national parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. And it means having a greater say in national policy making, through greater diversity among the ranks of our government agencies at the state, local, and federal levels.

This agenda reflects years of polling that shows environmental protection is a priority for Latinos.

The agenda calls on our political leaders to stand up to defend foundational environmental safeguards that protect us all. Republican leaders in Congress are waging an all-out assault on these commonsense safeguards, and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda cites the importance of landmark laws like the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act in protecting its communities from threats like the lead in the tap water in Flint, Michigan.

The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda has been working for 25 years to bring Latino voices to the fore. Its work is more important now than ever. With 55.4 million Latinos coast to coast, the group makes up 17.4 percent of the U.S. population, and they're the fastest-growing segment of the nation's electorate.

This fall, a record 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote, 17 percent more than in the 2012 elections. In California, 6.9 million Latinos are eligible to vote, 28 percent of the state's total electorate. There are 4.8 million Latinos eligible to vote in Texas, 28.1 percent of the state's eligible voters. And smaller but growing Latino populations have the potential to play an outsize role in places like Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Listening to the rising chorus of Latino voices, though, is more than just good politics. It's about more than simply folding Latinos more fully into the mainstream of the nation's social, political, and economic life. This is about living up to our promise, as Americans, that in this country everyone gets a fair shot to build a better life for themselves and their families.

It's a promise we've yet to keep for too many Latinos. Far more than most, this group still grapples with a litany of struggle, much of which it shares with low-income people and communities of color across the country: workforce discrimination and exploitation, voter suppression efforts and other barriers to political access, and substandard housing, medical care, and schools. Add to that the additional burden these groups bear on the front lines of environmental hazard and harm. It's time for us to do better.

This election year reminds us that American democracy was designed to accommodate change, but only so far as we demand that our leaders keep pace. The face of America is changing. Our leaders must change with it. The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda has pointed the way.

About the Authors

Rhea Suh

President

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