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Latino/as are Key to the Future of Climate Change Policies

Juhem Navarro-Rivera

As we approach the Peoples Climate March on April 29, Americans are expressing concern about climate change at the highest levels ever reported. A recent Gallup report shows that concern for global warming is at a three-decade high. In recent years, several studies have found that Latino/as stand out in their level of knowledge and concern about climate change. Latinos’ awareness of climate change and high levels of support for policies addressing climate change can be attributed to three reasons: (1) the youth of Latinos relative to the rest of the country, (2) the impact of environmental issues in Latino communities, and (3) Latinos’ transnational ties expand their concerns beyond the U.S. borders.

Latinos are the youngest major demographic group in the United States. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, the median age of Latinos is 28.2 years compared to 37.8 years for the general population and 42.8 years for non-Hispanic whites. Latinos account for a significant share of the members of the millennial generation that is highly supportive of policy solutions to address climate change, such as investments in green energy. Millennials have inherited a problem that needs immediate action but whose solutions are blocked by a political class dominated by members of the Baby Boomer generation, which is the least likely to believe in the reality of climate change. Latinos overall are generally a group that favors government intervention to solve major problems, and Latino millennials may be leading the way in that regard.

In addition to their youth and concern about the future, Latinos are disproportionately impacted by the environment in direct ways. Many Latinos live in areas where pollution is a significant concern. Air quality issues in cities contribute to Latinos’ high levels of asthma. A large number of Latinos report living or working near areas with high levels of toxicity. Moreover, most Latinos live in southwestern states that have been affected by droughts and wildfires that are intensifying due to climate change.

Many Americans consider climate change to be a foreign issue. Even when they believe that it is a real problem, they think it is a problem that mostly people in poor countries will face. As I have argued elsewhere, Latinos have strong transnational ties, meaning that they have friends and family in other countries, and these ties influence Latinos’ views on climate change. Latinos who are immigrants probably have heard about climate change from public education campaigns in Mexico and Central America, and Latino citizens with transnational ties probably have heard it from their relatives abroad. Latin American countries are serious about the threat of climate change and are taking actions to prepare for its effects.

Latino/as’ youth make them realize that not addressing climate change will lead to a bleak future. They know from experience that environmental issues matter. They have learned that climate change will make those environmental issues even worse. As progressive leaders and environmental organizations think of how to pick up popular support for action to address climate change, they need to realize that Latino/a communities represent a substantial base of support.