The Latino Environmental Movement
The stereotypical environmentalist is white and wealthy, but it’s a dangerous and self-perpetuating idea. The best-known environmental organizations may have low participation by people of color, but people of all races care about the environment. In fact, a recent survey by Yale University found that Latinos take climate change more seriously than any other ethnic group. And they aren’t waiting to feel welcomed by the mainstream movement. Environmentally conscious Latinos are forming an ecological movement of their own.
Like the Yale survey, the State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll shows roughly two-thirds of Latinos are concerned about environmental issues and willing to take action against climate change. Latinos are 20% more likely than whites to express concern about climate change. The only ethnic group polled that placed climate among the top 10 issues they would consider when voting, Latinos rated climate of equal importance with immigration reform and gun control.
More than 80% of those surveyed supported a national goal of conserving 30% of land and waters in America by the year 2030; transitioning to 100% renewable energy; protecting Bears Ears National Monument; and creating new national parks and protected areas for outdoor recreation.
It shouldn’t be surprising that Latinos have a heightened awareness of the importance of climate change. One of the most immediate consequences of climate change is an increase in extreme weather events. One in three Americans reports that they have been directly affected by an extreme weather event in the past two years, and nearly two-thirds say climate change is already affecting their community in some way.
Latinos make up nearly 20% of the American population and reside in every state. But half of the Hispanic population can be found in four states: California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. These are also among the states most affected by increasingly severe wildfires, hurricanes, and rising sea levels. Latino communities are often less likely to receive assistance in an emergency: consider the nation’s insufficient response to Hurricane Maria. Latino communities are also subject to the same everyday environmental injustices as other minority groups.
Despite a responsibility to pay attention to the specific concerns of the people most affected by environmental damage, major national environmental organizations have a complicated history with Latinos – most famously Sierra Club’s former anti-immigrant stance – that has kept many from joining them. But Latinos are not waiting for an invitation to take action. Instead, they are becoming their own environmental leaders. Here are a few Latino-led organizations doing good work that could use your support — regardless of your ethnicity.
Corazón Latino is a national nonprofit that seeks to generate social, environmental, and conservation initiatives fostering natural resource stewardship. They work with two approaches: youth engagement programs and culturally relevant campaigns to engage diverse communities in grassroots action.
Green Latinos is a national coalition of Latino leaders committed to environmental, natural resources, and conservation issues that significantly affect the health and welfare of the U.S. Latino community. Their policy priorities are climate change; public lands; clean transportation; water equity; and environmental justice.
Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) provides a platform for Latinos to contribute to public land conservation with an emphasis on access for recreational and traditional cultural activities. They also work to strengthen Hispanic participation in public lands decision-making.
Latino Outdoors is a national organization focused on expanding and amplifying the Latino experience in the outdoors through recreation, conservation, and environmental education programs.
Azul brings Latinx perspectives and participation to ocean conservation, coastal resources, and marine life. Their campaigns include Deja el Plástico, to reduce plastic pollution in California; Latinos Marinos, which recruits Latinos activists to lobby California legislative offices on behalf of the marine environment; and Vamos a la Playa, which encourages Latinx families to enjoy outdoor experiences through beach access.
Standing for Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, TEJAS empowers individuals to act for environmental justice through education about health concerns arising from environmental pollution; about environmental laws and regulations; and community-building skills and resources. TEJAS originated the “Toxic Tours” that show first-hand the refineries and chemical plants impacting Houston’s East End and advocate for healthier schools and increased chemical security.
Sachamama works to build support for a clean energy economy for all, and offers a 7-week accredited climate curriculum in communities across the country. Their Latinos por la Tierra campaign aims to bring climate change to the forefront of mainstream conversations. The Florida-based organization also provides resources and experiences that help communities connect with and preserve oceans and beaches.
For a longer list of Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations working in conservation, visit the La Madre Tierra website.