It's time for Latino leadership on climate change

Jorge Madrid

I love California in the summertime, and Fourth of July weekend is one of my favorite holidays. But it is getting excruciatingly HOT out here, and according to the best science, it is going to get much hotter.

This past weekend the West Coast broke nearly every temperature record on the books, well ahead of August and September, which are usually the hottest months of the year.

And last year was the hottest year on record for the continental United States. Crops were devastated, cities were hit by supercharged storms, and people, mostly the poor, suffered and died amid some of the most destructive extreme weather events in our history. All told, the United States spent more than $110 Billion on weather related disasters in 2012.

There’s more bad news ahead. Extreme heat projections for the U.S. in 2030, based on research from Stanford University, shows that the West and Southwest are going to get really, really hot! 

Those regions, incidentally, are going to have the largest concentrations of people of color in the country, and Latinos will be the fastest growing part of that demographic.  It doesn’t take a scientist to see that two freight trains – Latino population growth and extreme weather driven by climate change- are heading directly towards each other.

So will the climate change story end in disaster?  Or could this be an opportunity to adapt to and overcome a great challenge?  Latino leadership will be key to answering this question.

National polling data tells us that Latino voters see that something is terribly wrong, and overwhelmingly support action to fix it. Seventy-four percent of Latinos polled earlier this year believe climate change is a “serious problem”, almost 10 percent higher than the national average among all American adults.  Another poll tells us that 86% of Latinos strongly support President Obama taking action to reduce pollution that causes climate change. What’s more, gender, income, education, nativity and even party affiliation do not significantly move the needle on Latinos’ commitment to tackling climate change.      

Now for the exciting part: adapting to climate change will present one of the greatest opportunities to rebuild and enhance our infrastructure and economy, and to improve our public health. Why? Because adaptation will require major investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, as well as more green space and trees in our cities and more reliable (and low-carbon) transportation. We also need to stop burning the fossil fuels that are cooking our planet and polluting our air.

Got Sun? 

For a start, why not begin capturing all that free solar energy with rooftop solar panels?  This will reduce the strain on our electricity grid, and allow communities to stay cool without breaking the bank on the energy costs of air conditioning. Better still, building out solar will be good for the economy. In California, my home state, 92% of Latino voters want to increase the use of renewable energy and 87% agreed that “growing the state’s solar energy industry will create new jobs in California.”

I’ve written before that the Clean Energy economy is an opportunity for Latinos, creating new demand for goods and services, new businesses and new jobs. After all, somebody has to design and install all those solar panels, plant the trees, weatherize the homes and businesses, and operate and maintain our mass transit systems. That’s an easy argument to make to Latinos voters, 86% of whom said that they would prefer the country to invest in clean, renewable energy sources rather than fossil fuels.

Last week I joined Latino leaders from Voces Verdes and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) to have a conversation about the need for better and cleaner infrastructure in a warming world. And President Obama made it clear last week that his administration will double down on climate change, calling for all of us to “seize the future.”

As the polls show, the President has overwhelming support for his initiative from Latinos in this country. It’s time for Latino leaders to follow suit by being at the forefront of those calling for action on climate change.


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July 3, 2013 at 2:51 am

Remarkably helpful article. I wonder what's going to happen next. I will just try to wait... I just hope patience won't kill me...

July 4, 2013 at 2:14 am

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WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait .. …

July 4, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Yes, It’s time for Latino leadership on climate change.

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Edward Barrera
July 7, 2013 at 12:54 pm

The scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory did a study in California a few years back showing that massive population influx and land change in California has caused a 7 degree increase in the temperatures where this urbanization increase occurs. Urban Heat Island caused when you replace trees and grass is a major problem in California heat.

Weather related disasters are not increasing and you are not looking at apples to apples data that has been normalized to account for population growth and wealth considerations. My state climatologists is honest and teaches this at his web site and you need to increase your knowledge about how scientists normalize data to avoid mistakes like you make in thinking weather related disasters are different now than in the past. For instance If the Great Miami hurricane of the 1920s occurred today it would cause $170 billion in damage. Past weather and drought was far worse than today.

You make the huge error of stating solar is "free energy" and again show a lack of knowledge about costs and inefficiencies. Explain too me why electricity in Germany cost 40 cents/kWh if solar and wind are so cheap? The solar and wind industries have lied and panels and wind turbines are breaking down far short of the life expectancy you have been sold.

Wind farms also damage the environment, kill raptors and endangered species and they alter wind patterns that compromise land hydrology which impacts local habitat. You better find leaders more knowledgeable than you and who are educated and not willing to dismiss science facts for political fictions.

Solar does have a future but again I doubt you looked at its current limitations with regard to impact on environment and location.
Increase in solar creates greater grid instability and more blackouts. I have read the engineering reports from the Dutch and German renewable energy programs and there are major problems. Germany has not closed a single coal plant since going green and in fact are building more coal plants as they are shuttering nuclear plants and grid problems are escalating. You might want to study up and find out why or you will subject Latinos to the same fate as people who now suffer from energy poverty that is spreading through the EU and the UK. 600,000 German homes lost their ability to afford heat in winter last year because of the rising cost of energy during the transition to solar and wind. The same thing is happening in the UK and while English Lords with vast tracts of land are making $40,000 Pounds/month for land rent for wind farms, the poor are sadddled with rising energy costs that put affordable heating of their homes further out of reach.

If you really care about people and not politics, don't listen to Obama as he is just looking for ways to enrich pals via cronyism. Go talk to the engineers in Europe who know the truth and will be honest with you and keep politics out of the discussion. Go talk to the honest academics in Spain who witnessed the collapse of their economy and 25% unemployment after their government attempted to build a green economy. There is no "free" energy and their is no "clean" energy. There are only economic tradeoffs that will help the poor or hurt the poor.

July 7, 2013 at 4:27 pm

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