WASHINGTON – The nation’s 56 million Latinos are especially vulnerable to the health threats posed by climate change because of where they live, work and lack access to health care, a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council said. Latinos therefore stand to benefit greatly from concerted efforts to reduce carbon pollution, which fuels global warming, according to “Nuestro Futuro: Climate Change and U.S. Latinos.”
“It’s no wonder Latinos in the United States overwhelmingly demand climate action: They are extremely vulnerable to hazard and harm from this widening environmental threat,” said Adrianna Quintero, a co-author of the report and director of partner engagement at NRDC. “In so many ways—from where they live and work to dire challenges they face in gaining access to health care—Latinos are at Ground Zero for climate impacts.
“But there’s a silver lining— Latinos, and all Americans, also can gain real and sizable health and economic benefits as we cut the carbon pollution driving climate change and transition to smarter, cleaner energy that powers our future,” Quintero said.
“Nuestro Futuro,” a comprehensive review of dozens of the latest studies and reports in the United States lays out the array of health and economic impacts that Latinos face as a result of climate change:
- A majority live in California, Texas, Florida and New York, states that are among the most affected by extreme heat, air pollution, and flooding.
- Latinos are heavily represented in crop and livestock production and construction, where they’re at elevated risk from climate-change-boosted extreme heat. They are three times more likely to die on the job from excessive heat than non-Latinos.
- Latinos generally have less health insurance coverage than non-Latinos, so they struggle to access health care when afflicted by climate-related illnesses.
There is a flip-side: U.S. Latinos also stand to receive tremendous health, safety and economic benefits from action to reduce the impacts of climate change. This helps explain why Latinos—often seen as mainly concerned about immigration issues—rank acting on climate high as a national priority. Furthermore, the report notes, they can help accelerate a clean energy revolution, creating clean energy jobs, saving people money on electric bills and protecting future generations from climate catastrophe.
“The millions of people in the United States who identify as Hispanic or Latino are remarkably diverse—and remarkably united. They are worried that climate change, if unchecked, will harm their families, communities and country. And they want action now to avoid its worst impacts,” said Maria Cardona, a board member of Voces Verdes who participated in the telephone-based press conference held to release the report.
The Nuestro Futuro report highlights these polling findings:
- 9 in 10 Latinos want climate action, and 86 percent support carbon pollution limits on power plants- a key driver of climate change. In contrast, a recent Associated Press poll found that 65 percent of all Americans think climate change is a problem that the government needs to address.
- A majority of Latinos, 59 percent, do not believe there’s a trade-off between environmental reforms and economic growth.
The report also catalogues these other health impacts Latinos face:
- Nearly 25 million of the country’s 56 million Latinos live in the 15 worst areas for ground-level ozone pollution, which puts people at risk for premature death, lung cancer, asthma attacks and other health ailments. The areas include Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas, Dallas, New York and Houston.
- In 2015, 48 percent of the nation’s crop and livestock production workers and 28 percent of construction workers were Latinos, working in outdoor jobs that put them at high risk from extreme heat.
- Nationally, farm and construction workers accounted for 58 percent of job-related heat deaths, and Hispanics had three-fold more risk of dying from the heat on the job than non-Hispanics, and the report cites studies in California, North Carolina and Oregon.
- On average Hispanic children suffer the same from asthma as non-Hispanics, but they are 70 percent more likely to be admitted to the hospital and, alarmingly, twice as like to die from asthma as non-Hispanics.
- And millions of Latinos are undocumented immigrants and not eligible for disaster aid offered to help people recover from extreme weather damages to property.
Flooding from sea level rise and storms, both amplified by climate change, also hit Latino families especially hard. Many of them live along the coasts, often lack health insurance and have fewer resources to become resilient when confronted by climate impacts, according to the report.
For example, southern Florida—home to 2.7 million Hispanics—could experience some of the highest impacts from rising seas and hurricane-driven flooding in the country. Communities including Miami, Hialeah, Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg could see floodwaters rushing higher and farther into their streets with climate change, according to the report.
“Millions of Latinos live in cities with pollution-choked air and along our coasts where seas are rising. They are in the vortex of climate health impacts,” said Juan Declet-Barreto, a health scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists who participated in the report release. “We know this: If we don’t reduce the carbon pollution fueling climate change, more will become ill, and more will die.”
Finally, the report concludes with recommendations that urge Latinos and all Americans to support full implementation of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution and expand clean energy; back policies that track and cut air pollution in the nation’s transportation system; demand strong energy efficiency programs from utilities; and work to accelerate policies that promote clean wind and solar power and the jobs they’ll create.
“There is a huge, untapped opportunity to reduce electricity bills for Latinos, including the nearly five million Hispanic residents in multifamily rental housing,” said Jorge Madrid, a Voces Verdes board member also participating in the report release. “Increasing investment in energy efficiency programs could help reduce energy burdens and energy consumption in Latino and other underserved communities, cut costs associated with late bill payments and shutoffs, boost the local economy—and create many clean energy jobs.”
For the Nuestro Futuro report in English and Spanish, a one-page summary in English, blogs on the issue and other materials, click here: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/nuestro-futuro-climate-change-and-us-latinos
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.