Why Are Latinos Way Ahead of the Climate Change Curve?

September 12, 2014
Roberto Mera
Former contributor

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.