Latinos Face Economic and Health Threats from Climate Change—and Demand that Our Leaders Take Action

October 18, 2016 | 6:16 pm
Juan Declet-Barreto
Senior Social Scientist for Climate Vulnerability

I grew up in the warm and humid latitudes of Puerto Rico. My homeland is in the tropical climatic zone so there are no stark seasonal differences in temperature like those found at lower or higher latitudes outside of the tropics. But from my childhood I recall a slight drop in nighttime temperatures around December—popularly known as the “aires navideños”, or the “Christmas breeze” that heralded the start of the jolly holiday season in Puerto Rico.

But I haven’t felt much of those aires in my recent visits to spend time with family and friends. Warmer temperatures and enduring droughts are now the norm in the Caribbean and elsewhere in Latin America, and climate change is responsible for those shifts.

As a latinoamericano living in the United States, I am acutely aware of the changing climate, how it’s threatening my community’s health and wellbeing, and also of the importance of taking immediate action to halt the anthropogenic carbon pollution that is warming the planet—and so are the large majority of Latinos in the United States.

That’s what my friends from Voces Verdes and I recently found in Nuestro Futuro: Climate change and U.S. Latinos, a report that summarizes how Latinos are particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis, that Latinos are demanding action on climate, and how Latinos—and all people in the United States—can benefit from reducing climate-changing carbon pollution.

Geography, occupation, and socio-economic disparities make Latinos particularly vulnerable to climate-related threats

Extreme heat, poor air quality, and flooding are serious climate-related threats in California, Florida, New York, and Texas, four states that account for 60 percent of the Latino population in the U.S. More than 24 million Latinos live in the 15 cities in the U.S. with the worst ozone smog pollution. Latinos have much lower rates of health care access, and immigration status often disqualifies many from receiving disaster assistance. Add to this the overrepresentation of Latinos in agricultural and construction work that overexposes them to extreme heat, and you can start seeing how climate health threats are very unevenly distributed by geographical region, employment, and access to health care.

The intersection of smog ozone and Latino populations

The intersection of smog ozone and Latino urban populations. Graphic: NRDC.

Latinos demand strong climate action

Latinos in the U.S. have a great deal of cultural, economic, and occupational diversity. While recognizing such rich diversity, Latinos are unified in demanding that our government take action on climate. For example, nine out of ten polled Latinos favors government action on climate, while eight out of ten polled support President Obama’s efforts to cut carbon pollution. Latinos with ties to their countries of origin support climate action because they know firsthand how floods, droughts, and other weather hazards routinely destroy lives and property in Latin America.


Latinos demand climate action – regardless of political party affiliation. Graphic: NRDC.

Action on climate will help address many of the health and economic challenges in Latino communities

We must take action now to make Latinos and all communities in the United States more resilient to climate-fueled weather disasters. We must demand that our leaders meet the United States’ international commitments to fight climate change, as well as transforming the transportation and energy sectors to improve energy efficiency in homes and businesses, and develop the clean energy economy that can help Latinos and other disadvantaged communities improve their economic well-being.

And maybe, just maybe, one day, future generations in Puerto Rico will be able to enjoy those wonderful aires navideños again…