Latinos Urge Leaders to Take Strides on Climate Change

Posted March 26, 2009 at 10:50am

The current downward spiral of the economy, coupled with factors like climate change, is adversely affecting many communities, the Latino community being one of the hardest hit. It is imperative that we all do our part to not only reduce carbon emissions, but save and create American jobs in unique ways. These jobs must bring labor, private industry and public resources to the table. [IMGCAP(1)]

Job creation invested in green technologies will not only create a healthier environment but will also create new relationships between the public and private sector. Innovation and competition go hand in hand with economic development. The legislative branch must do its job in crafting favorable climate change legislation, but private industry must also take strides in creating more green jobs for a more sustainable environment.

As the new administration stretches its legs and hits its stride, discussions about climate change are heating up. Because Latinos face more adversity from the effects of global warming, their voices must be heard in Washington as lawmakers tackle the task of writing climate change policy. Latinos must also be a part of the discussion industry leaders are currently having on ways to invest in green technologies and promote greater economic stability.

The administration seeks to pass climate change legislation this year — not a moment too soon. Scientists have considered a number of variables to estimate the extent of climate change likely to occur by the year 2100. Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced over the next 90 years, the warming that will occur will significantly affect the environment and humans. If current emissions trends continue till the end of the century, the results will be devastating and irreversible, such as Category 5 hurricanes, extended and far-reaching droughts, and all-consuming wildfires. Along with the rising temperatures, there will be an increasing toll in human lives, health, suffering and damage to the environment and property.

While the effects of global warming will be widespread, Latinos could suffer more than other segments of the population. Currently, 22 percent of Latinos live below the poverty level; 13.9 million do not have health insurance. These factors would make it difficult for Latinos to protect themselves against the consequences of extreme weather and natural disasters. Perhaps more subtle, but potentially as deadly, are the effects of increasing smog as warmer and warmer temperatures worsen the intensity of air pollution. Latino children develop asthma at more than twice the rate of non-Latino white children. And, already, 71 percent of Latinos live in areas with high concentrations of ozone, according to a study by the National Coalition of Hispanic Health and Human Service Organizations.

Moreover, the U.S. Latino population is concentrated in the hot, arid or low-lying parts of the country, which could feel the effects of global warming more acutely. State and local economies will be hurt, as will citizens, especially the poor. Latinos’ lack of access to quality health care and preventative medicine only compounds the effects of climate change.

While Congress seeks to get its job, there is a second track of partnerships between government agencies and corporations that would help improve the focus on solutions for creating a more sustainable environment. We cannot and should not sit back and wait for the government to devise all the solutions to rescue us from the impacts of climate change. Industry leaders, working in concert with government agencies, can make important contributions to reducing human contributions to global warming and also create jobs for a teetering economy.

For example, AT&T has announced that it will add more than 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles to its fleet over the next 10 years. Approximately 8,000 of these vehicles will be run on compressed natural gas, making this the largest single commitment to compressed natural gas by a U.S. company. AT&T hopes that by setting this good example, others will follow. This type of leadership by the private sector, in conjunction with government efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, will help reduce the nation’s human impact on global warming and close the gap to energy independence.

Despite our best efforts, the effects of global warming loom large before us. It will have a distinct and disproportionate impact on Latinos. That impact will be environmental, economic and societal. It will hurt our health, disrupt our lives and communities, and empty our pocketbooks and take away our jobs. For all these reasons and more, it is imperative that Latinos have a voice as lawmakers craft climate change legislation and that industry take a leadership role in creating new green jobs for America.

Gabriela D. Lemus serves as vice chairwoman of the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change.