Why Are Latinos Way Ahead of the Climate Change Curve?

, , former scientist and Kendall Science Fellow | September 12, 2014, 8:07 am EDT
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In the summer of 2009 I had a unique opportunity in my young professional career. I gave several lectures on climate change and society at various venues in Guayaquil, Ecuador. There was a common theme throughout my talks: the audience accepted climate science and strongly felt that they had to act. This sentiment was shared by people with varied backgrounds, from architects to soybean farmers to students.

I was still a PhD candidate at the time of the lectures but had been exposed to the interface of society and climate through an internship tasked to aid the development of a Master’s degree in Climate Change and Society for the University of North Carolina system. I was eager to communicate the science. And, as a native Ecuadorian raised in the United States, I had the opportunity to provide a new perspective.

Here in the U.S., talking about climate change is more complicated. Special interests have a vested interest in delaying action on climate change and have raised doubts about the truth of global warming through misinformation.

Interestingly, views on climate change vary widely among different racial and ethnic groups, as a Yale University study found in 2010. A recent poll by the Natural Resources Defense Council surveyed registered Latino voters and found that 9 out of 10 individuals support taking action on climate change.

So why are Latinos so far ahead of the curve when it comes to the reality of climate change? It is the importance of family and community, perhaps, and the sense that future generations deserve a good environment to live in. Another reason is that Latinos in the U.S. live in regions that often violate clean air rules, putting them at risk of serious health impacts. This affects lower-income households in particular, where a Centers of Disease Control and Prevention study found higher rates of childhood asthma in poor Latino communities compared with middle-class or wealthy white populations.

The most interesting thing found in recent polls is that, in contrast with mainstream America, support for action on climate change is measurably higher among both liberal and conservative Latinos. Clearly, there is a palpable need for change within the Latino community when it comes to the way we treat our planet.

The current Latino Eco Festival is an opportunity to show the Latino commitment to the environment and also to discuss why Latinos are ahead of the curve on climate change issues. There will be a panel today at 1:30PM MT (3:30 ET) at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, CO where three Latino scientists, including myself, address the support of climate science prevalent in the Latino community.

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  • Ah yes, the lifestyle question. Here are my thoughts. I don’t believe in adopting a third world lifestyle (too much behavior change required.) I do however believe in the preservation of conservation values learned from mami and abuelita. Here’s how I wrote about it in the Huffington Post. Would love to hear your thoughts after you read this.


  • I agree with Roy. Great point made. Latinos understand the harmful changes in the environment that happened in your own country and dont want their newer generation to face the same. They are supportive instead.

  • Neddy

    I agree with Roy’s comments in regards to Mary’s.

    I think most Latinos living in the USA already know struggle, and know what it is to make great sacrifices for the good of others.
    Most migrant adults already witnessed the changes in the environment back home to fear the same happening here.
    Latino immigrants have a closer relationship with the natural world than most US born adults, and for me that’s a great plus when we want to work for earth care.

    Unfortunately, few Latinos know the link between environmental degradation back home and migration, and/or the impact of US supported economic policies (like NAFTA) that cause migration and environmental degradation. When we come to the US and ignore these links we continue supporting these policies. We appreciate the cheap food and clothing, for example without knowing the economic impact this causes in others who are paying the real price with low wages and polluting their environment; causing many times more migration.

    • rjmera

      Another great point! Thanks.

  • Mary

    Latinos want a good clean environment for their children and relatives to immigrate to here in the U.S. What would be the point of going to all the trouble and expense of paying a coyote to smuggle your kids into America if conditions there are imperfect? Might as well just keep the family together in the homeland otherwise. Plus Latinos are not addicted to all the first world comforts we pamper ourselves with here. They are happy to do without cars and air conditioning and heavy infrastructure that relies upon nasty steel, concrete and asphalt industries. Latinos know from experience that dirt roads are just fine for foot traffic and the occasional llama. Adobe huts are splendid shelters! Why ruin our climate with silly toxic extravagances when, by transplanting and adopting a 3rd world life style we all can live in plenty and equality? I think Latinos have it right, as usual!

    • Roy

      I don’t believe the comments above by Mary, our beliefs shared by latinos. As a latino, I don’t think we have to adopt a 3rd world life style to have a high quality of life. We shouldn’t be going backwards but moving forward with a new way of dealing with our energy needs and not depending on oil.

      • rjmera

        Thanks for the comment. Great point!

    • rjmera

      Thanks for your comment. That is an interesting take on the problem.