Latinos and Climate Change, How Aware Are We of the Red Alert?

Latinos and Climate Change BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press.

As northern Europe faced unprecedented floods, Greece and Turkey were trying to control the worst wildfires in a decade. The evidence is clear: Human activity is changing the Earth’s climate in ways that are not just unprecedented but irreversible, scientists say.

The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assures that the world has warmed rapidly by 1.1 degrees Celsius more than pre-industrial levels, now leaning towards about 1.5 degrees, a “critical threshold that world leaders agreed warming should remain below to avoid worsening impacts,” as explained by CNN.

“Bottom line is that we have zero years left to avoid dangerous climate change because it’s here,” Michael E. Mann, a lead author of the IPCC’s 2001 report, told the media.

For Latinos, the situation is doubly worrisome.

On the front line of impact

As the Secretary of Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm, explained to our editor Guisell Gómez, “Communities of color have been hit first and worst by the impacts of climate change and climate pollution.”

According to the Secretary of Energy, researchers have found that air pollution has disproportionately been caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, which is inhaled by sixty-three percent of the Black and Latino community, causing heart and breathing deaths.

Also, and according to Politico, “the Latino population makes up about 18 percent of the U.S. but represents 37 percent of the people who live in the areas that risQ identified as facing the most extreme wildfire risks.”

According to activists and experts in California, a housing crisis, mixed with the location of farmwork and frontline jobs that attract Latino residents, particularly migrant workers, has put the community at greater risk of being impacted by wildfires, as Science Friday reported.

A multilayered climate crisis

While many specialists describe the impact of pollution on communities of color, few actually discuss the intricacy of circumstances that lay under the climate change crisis.

“Climate does not discriminate, but our housing crisis has,” José Trinidad Castañeda, a climate activist in Orange County, told Science Friday.

Trinidad Castañeda said that many family members have continually moved farther toward the desert and more rural regions, which are more susceptible to wildfires.

Homes in wildfire-prone areas are cheaper than homes in safer areas, which only worsened during the pandemic. Trinidad Castañeda said that many Latinos he knows spend hours commuting to get to work.

Climate Change could be a matter of family values for Latinos

Between denialists and stagnant political moves, Climate Change has become a bone of contention in the U.S. However, and as it’s often the case for Latinos, the issue is far from political.

New research led by Adam Pearson ’03, associate professor of psychological science at Pomona College, and Jonathon Schuldt ’04, associate professor of communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and interim executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, shows that family values are a much stronger predictor of climate opinions and policy support than political views for U.S. Latinos.

Cultural Determinants of Climate Change Opinion: Familism Predicts Climate Beliefs and Policy Support Among US Latinos is a study published in the journal Climatic Change. Rainer Romero-Canyas, lead senior social scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EFD), is a co-author.

“There’s a growing body of work that finds that Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S. report some of the strongest environmental concerns — concerns about climate change specifically — and support for climate mitigation,” said Schuldt, a faculty fellow of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, told Eurasia Review.

“People have been trying to figure out why that might be,” Schuldt said. “And so here we thought about familism, or family values, as one potential piece of this puzzle.”

Schuldt admits that they didn’t find a definitive answer as to why familism — cultural values representing a commitment to and prioritization of the family — should be such a strong predictor among U.S. Latinos. Still, their research and previous studies offer some clues.

“When you think about the kind of threat climate change is,” he said, “if you’re more attuned to family values, you might be more concerned about climate change and its effects on loved ones and across generations.”

“Feeling a sense of connection and commitment to your family, and believing that family considerations should guide our everyday decisions, may shape consensus views within a family, including for a societal problem like climate change,” Pearson said. “And this may have implications for the sharing of climate beliefs and concerns within Latino families.”

And if the findings from a 2017 report, Climate Change in the Latino Mind, published by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, are right, then Latino families might be the firsts to join forces against Climate Change.

According to the 2017 report, more than 80 percent of Latinos believe that global warming is happening, with more than 60 percent saying that they are “very” or “extremely” sure. Importantly, seven in 10 Latinos believe that human activity is the primary cause.

Similarly, more than three-fourths of Latinos say they are worried about global warming, with one in three specifying that they’re “very worried.” Of those polled, the majority believe that climate change will lead to “a great deal” of harm to future generations, plant and animal species, the world’s poor, and people in developing nations.