- Issue: Fall 2015
Climate change affects everyone, but it doesn't affect everyone in the same way.
"Latinos and other people of color are hit the hardest by climate change and pollution," says Pedro Lopez, program director for the Phoenix-based Latino environmental justice program Chispa. "What's important about engaging those communities," he notes, is that "if [Latinos] vote and are active in their communities, they can make a difference."
That's a sentiment echoed by scientist and clean air advocate Nicole Hernández Hammer, the Florida leader of Moms Clean Air Force. "Latinos and low-income communities are disproportionately at risk from the impacts of sea level rise. In the US, the cities identified by Climate Central as most vulnerable to sea level rise are almost identical to the places with the largest Latino populations."
To help engage Latinos in climate activism and voting, WWF has launched ¡Climático!, a concerted national effort to partner with Latino leaders and communities across the United States, to raise awareness of climate risks from Latin America to North America, and to promote US action.
Many voices, united
In the US, many Latino community leaders are already out in front, leading the call for climate action. Polls show that nine out of 10 US Latinos support White House action on climate—higher than any other group. That's part of why we are working with groups like Green Latinos, Chispa, Moms Clean Air Force and the League of Conservation Voters: to help make sure US leadership hears the voices of those impacted communities. "Climate change knows no borders," says WWF media expert Monica Echeverria, "so we need everyone in the fight."
Dulce Sáenz, program director for Denver-based Protégete: Nuestro Aire, Nuestra Salud, adds, "Our end game is to amplify Latino power and influence to advance clean energy and carbon reduction policies that protect Latino communities' health and future. If the people who are most impacted and have the most at stake speak up and participate in the civic and political processes, then decision makers will have to listen to their concerns and demands."
Bridging international borders
Strong US leadership on climate is crucial to the Americas and the world. Global climate politics are heating up, and all voices must be heard in order to secure US leadership in the run-up to the UN climate conference in Paris.
Fortunately, a powerful cadre of climate leaders is emerging from Latin America. Domestic-level climate and energy policies—from countries like Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica—are setting standards for others to follow. In addition, Latin American countries have provided energy and momentum to previous UN climate talks, breaking the traditional stalemate between developed and developing countries.
All politics is local
Those advances in the southern hemisphere also make it increasingly vital that WWF play its part, and partner with both US-based Latinos and leaders in Central and South America to present a unified, powerful call to action—one heard not only in international meetings, but in the districts many members of the US Congress call home.
Moms Clean Air Force, for example, helps local people make their will known to government representatives in Florida. "We focus on educating parents on air pollution and climate change, and then connecting them with their elected officials, so we can drive a policy forward that protects our children's health," says Hernández Hammer. "For a long time now, we've had enough science to begin implementing sound policies that help us adapt to the impacts of climate change."
Building people's awareness can translate into powerful action, Lopez confirms: "We want Latinos to feel comfortable explaining why they are involved in this fight. We need more champions in Congress to address climate change. And we need this work to start in the local communities."