A year after Laudato Si, Latinos lead on climate action

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It’s been a year since Pope Francis issued an encyclical calling for a social, economic and political transformation to combat climate change. In the encyclical "Laudato Si," which means “praise be to you, my Lord,” the Pope is very clear in his message to humankind: “the exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits.”

Climate change knows no borders, makes no distinction between nationalities, skin color, political ideology or cultural identity. Its catastrophic effects are already impacting countries across the world and failure to act now will only exacerbate impacts on future generations.

Cities across the world are at risk of inundation from rising seas; we could even lose entire low-lying countries—like the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and the Maldives— as oceans rise. Drought is devastating whole regions of the world. Today, Central America is experiencing the worst drought in decades, causing major crop loss and exacerbating a food crisis for over 3.5 million people who already struggle to get the food they need to survive. In Haiti, the 2015 cereal harvest was the lowest in 12 years, with losses as high as 90 percent in most areas, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Climate change isn’t just affecting people abroad; it’s affecting American communities and our everyday lives, too. Droughts in California, increasingly intense and more frequent hurricanes along our eastern seaboard, and prolonged wildfires roaring across the West are all examples. As Laudato Si reminds us, this is a global crisis which affects the lives, livelihoods, and rights of everyone, and the time to act is now.

As we unite ourselves behind climate action, we do so by leaving the debate around the cause of climate change behind us. As the Pope said in his encyclical: "A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system …a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

With consensus on this issue, many in public and private sectors have sprung to action, integrating a sustainability component into their growth strategies, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy and improving their supply chains. The US and Latin America are also taking important steps. Last year, the Obama administration announced the Clean Power Plan, designed to strengthen the upward trend toward cleaner American energy and cut the carbon pollution that is driving climate change. In the Latin America and Caribbean region, over half (54.4 percent) of all power is generated from renewable sources. And companies in the region are delivering about twice the amount of carbon emissions savings per dollar invested in low-carbon technologies compared to companies in the US.

US Latinos are taking action as well. Time and time again, polling shows that the Latino community is very concerned about the impacts of climate change and equally committed to climate action. A recent survey, conducted by GreenLatinos and Earthjustice, finds 74% of Latinos believe combating climate change is a priority. This sentiment mirrors reality as the US Latino community is one of the most affected by the impacts of climate change. Half of all US Latinos live in one of the 25 most polluted cities by ozone and, 45% of US Latinos live in California, Texas, and Florida—the states that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Recognizing the critical intersection between social justice and climate change, the Latino community is working hard to come together.

Just a few days ago, two important climate events took place: the annual meeting of US Climate Action Network, which had an emphasis on environmental justice and the greater vulnerability of disadvantaged sectors, and the National Latino Climate Leadership Forum which took place at the US headquarters of World Wildlife Fund in Washington DC. These forums brought together leading climate justice groups, green groups and Latino leaders from faith, health, business, education, community, government, culture, and environment to explore collaborations and to develop priorities and plans to accelerate engagement of US Latinos on climate.

The US Latino and Latin American community can be a force to reckon with in the fight against climate change. Much more is still to be done, but together we can achieve change and support the Pope’s call for action on climate change.