Why Latinos care about the environment

Health, jobs, culture, recreation all matter


Data indicates that Latinos care more about the environment than non-Hispanic populations in the U.S. Because of this, Latinos possess the ability to transform environmental policy on a scale that has never before been seen in this country.

This much will be discussed amongst experts at the Americas Latino Eco-Festival panel, “Why Environmentalism Matters to Latino Americans and Why We Are the Solution and Not the Problem,” on Saturday, Sept. 13 at 12 p.m. at The Dairy Center.

Latinos care more about water, air and land conservation, ending tax breaks for oil and gas companies, protecting against wildfires and drought, and creating national parks and monuments, according to several polls and studies including those from the Sierra Club and the Latino Sustainability Institute.

More than half of Latinos see a connection between pollution and public health and three-quarters of all Latinos believe climate change is currently happening — only half of all Americans believe that.

The numbers continue — and will be addressed throughout the conference — but why do Latinos care more about the environment than others?

For starters, clean energy and conservation efforts provide jobs for the Latino community in the U.S. At nearly 11 percent unemployment, Latinos see initiatives like the American Jobs Act and renewable energy legislation as opportunities for gainful employment. In fact, three out of four Latinos believe renewable energy can bring immediate jobs to their community — a much more optimistic view than other U.S. populations.

Latinos also have deep conviction that acting as environmental stewards is part of their moral duty. More than 92 percent of Latinos polled in a Sierra Club study said they “have a moral responsibility to take care of God’s creations on this earth — the wilderness and forests, the oceans, lakes and rivers.”

Recreational opportunities also factor into Latinos’ view of the environment — 94 percent of Latinos say that outdoor activities like fishing, picnics, camping and visiting national parks are important to them and their families. Many of these activities are connected to deeply rooted traditions that Latino families bring with them to the U.S.

Lastly, personal health is a big issue for Latinos. Latino immigrants often have to live in urban centers or near industrial complexes — often the only places where families new to the country can afford to live. This puts Latinos up against poor air and water quality, lack of access to recreational facilities and increased risk of chronic illness. Asthma, for instance, is twice as likely in Latino children as it is in white children, according to an EPA study.

Environmentalism is a part of Latino culture and as immigrants continue to build lives in the U.S., a new era in conservation and eco-maintenance is burgeoning. Many of the panelists in the Sept. 13 discussion come from organizations that help bridge Latino environmentalism to major local and national policy change and eco initiatives.

Mark Magana, president and founder of the environmental network GreenLatinos, has worked in the White House and on Capitol Hill to develop legislation that addresses Latino environmental concerns.

Rod Torrez, director of HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors), will also sit on the panel. His organization works to build and conserve outdoor recreational areas in order to “continue centuries-old cultural traditions.” HECHO engages and organizes Latinos to protect atrisk land and promote eco-friendly initiatives.

The panel, moderated by Sierra Club nationally syndicated columnist Javier Sierra, will also include Jennifer Allen, the former Latino Outreach Program director at the League of Conservation Voters; Pati Romero Lankao, deputy director of the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment; Adrianna Quintero, National Resources Defense Council senior attorney; and Grace Tiscareno-Sato, author of Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them.

Tiscareno-Sato travels around the country speaking in schools and businesses about the opportunities available to the Latino community — and to businesses looking toward new ventures — due to the fact that there is great interest amongst the Latino community in environmentalism and that they are perhaps the most prepared group in the country to be environmental entrepreneurs, business leaders, teachers and innovators.

The panel will ultimately consider what real effect the Latino community can have on issues related to air and water quality, conservation, climate change and clean energy within the next four years.

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