Climate change and its components adversely affect the Latino community. For example, the 2010 census data show that Latinos became the majority in 191 U.S. metropolitan districts, especially in areas with high vehicle traffic and power plant activity.
Furthermore, data from the American Lung Association indicate that Latinos have the highest incidence of asthma. A major issue is the impact of power plants as the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse emissions, a climate change component. Of concern is the connection between the asthma and the emissions.
However, there is a broader context that should worry Americans: climate change. While greenhouse emissions are the result of the power-plant operations, the results of such emissions have been global warming in the intermediate term and climate change in the long term. Invariably, global warming and climate change have been used interchangeably but are in fact distinct events in a greater set of environmental problems.
The Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy, and Research Organization (CLLARO) has recently completed a research project that measured the Latino community's perception about climate change. Almost half of the respondents identified themselves as bilingual or multilingual compared to English only or Spanish only. Among several survey items was one asking the respondents whether climate change is the same as global warming. The bilingual/multilingual group was almost fifty-percent more likely than the English speaking group and more than twice as likely as the Spanish speaking group to respond correctly.
Bilingualism and its cultural components can be proxies for cross cultural sensitivity — i.e., aware of events in both the Latino community and the larger one. Therefore, these findings, among others, highlight the importance of culture and more specifically cross cultural understanding of the impact of climate change on the Latino community.
Understanding such difference is key to developing strategies for dealing with the overall problem of climate change. The enforcement of the Clean Power Plan will begin the process of mitigating the adverse fall out from power plant emissions. The plan calls for cutting carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels. The proposal also requires cutting pollution from soot and smog by over 25 percent by 2030. The results will be cleaner breathing and better health.
However, to ensure that such mitigation occurs in ways that improve the health of the Latino community, there is a need for diverse representation at the strategy table, whether that table is set by the governor, the Colorado congressional and senatorial delegation, city mayors and/or the private sector. Given the evidence, culturally responsive persons are more likely to understand the issues and recommend viable steps for improving the quality of life for the Latino community. These steps can include outreach, community education, involvement in the public policy process, and, of course, voting.
As part of the national strategy to deal with climate change, CLLARO supports the Clean Power Plan and will encourage members of the Latino community to support it also. The improvement in the quality of health and life within the Latino community and the overall Colorado community merits such support.
Christine Alonzo is executive director of the Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy Research Organization. CLLARO will host a Research Expo on Aug.13 at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts from 5 to 7 p.m.