There are many reasons why Americans defend the environment and rally around conservation efforts.
For U.S. Latinos, the motivations for climate action go beyond the ability to hike through Yellowstone, ski in Colorado, or enjoy the waves of Laguna Beach. For many Latinos, who experience its daily impacts, climate change is an up-close and personal battle: whether it is an asthma flare up, a cardiovascular condition, or accepting that part of the reality of living paycheck-to-paycheck is knowing that the quality of the air they breathe and water they drink is directly tied to where they live.
Data clearly depicts how Hispanics are disproportionately affected by climate change. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Latinos are the minority group most severely impacted by climate change and pollution. Two out of every five Hispanics live within 30 miles of a carbon-powered plant. Whether it’s breathing polluted air, drinking contaminated water, paying higher home insurance premiums because of rising sea levels, or suffering from dangerous heat waves, climate change is keeping many Latinos and other underrepresented communities from living healthy and productive lives.
Consequently, our community immediately raised its voice over the past weeks to express disappointment with actions to rollback policies intended to combat climate change. And we are not alone. We are part of a growing wave of dissent across communities, cities and states. We stand against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, as well as his extreme and reckless budget that would cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by an unprecedented 31%, gutting the agency and making it nearly impossible to protect Latino’s health.
Our nation’s participation in this global agreement was a commitment to our citizens and the rest of the world that we would act on climate. With Trump’s reversal on this important accord, our children, seniors and workers—especially farm workers—are no longer guaranteed protection against the climate impacts that affect their everyday lives. The Paris Agreement was designed to be an alliance through which the nations of the world committed to developing and implementing climate change solutions, as well as prioritizing the domestic and international investment and development of clean, renewable energy.
President Trump’s decision has set off an avalanche of consequences that will deeply hurt the United States’ diplomatic efforts and negotiating abilities on the international stage. Beyond that, it makes clear that the U.S. government and its leadership are unwilling and ill prepared to combat a looming public health crisis in which minorities and communities of color are hit first and worst. Without international cooperation, none of this will change because pollution isn’t contained by international borders or state lines.
Trump’s budget, or rather his #DirtyBudget, favors big corporate polluters at the expense of Americans’ public health, including drastic cuts to the EPA. These cuts would render the EPA unable to enforce key protections and measures that protect children, seniors, and all Americans from dangerous pollution and the illnesses it triggers. To add insult to injury, he put Scott Pruitt -- a politician who has raised more than $4 million from corporate polluters and protected their interests at every turn-- in charge of the agency. Both Pruitt and Trump have made clear that our priorities are not their priorities. Administrator Pruitt reaffirmed this during last Thursday’s congressional hearing: they choose big corporations and polluters over the rest of us.
For more than 30 years, I have worked in the public and private sectors in defense of my community, advocating for equity through public policies on the economy, housing, jobs and immigration – all of which are important to the Latino community. But now more than ever we must come together in the fight against climate change which has united diverse organizations to protect our communities and the environment.
Next year are the midterm elections and Latino voters will decide the future of many seats in key congressional races. Hispanic voters will not support those who haven’t moved a finger to improve the health and well-being of their families, especially on the issues of climate and environment. And to those who think Latinos don’t care about the environment, let me clear: this issue transcends beyond access to national parks or a YouTube video featuring an endangered species. For us, climate action means protecting the future of thousands of children with asthma and standing up for the thousands of parents whose only hope lies in a government that will care enough to bring solutions to the table.
Albert Jacquez is the deputy director of the NCLR Action Fund, which works to expand the influence and political power of the Latino community through civic engagement, issue advocacy and partisan and nonpartisan political campaign work.