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Polls Indicate High Latino Support for Climate Change and Environmental Justice Issues

April 8th, 2010 · 24 Comments

I think that many Latinos are sensitive to environmental issues because we are among the first to feel the negative health and environmental consequences of things like industrial pollution, unsafe waste disposal, and even global warming if we cannot afford to properly insulate our dwellings. Additionally, many of us are not too far removed from the agrarian way of life where we lived off the land and felt intimately tied to the earth that nourishes us. To this day, my octogenarian grandmother plants and harvests a garden every year, which is one of the basic things that we can all do to lower the carbon footprint with our food consumption and to consume safe and organic produce.

Today I came across this piece in Poder 360 revealing some recent polling on Latinos and climate change. It turns out that our community is more “green” or rather more  “concerned about green” than average:

“A recent Gallup poll shows 48 percent of Americans think the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated, up from 41 percent in 2009 and 31 percent in 1997, when Gallup first began asking about the issue. But as the Obama administration gears up for this debate, public opinion on the issue shows Hispanics bucking the national skepticism, according to the latest poll, commissioned by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC). Conducted by Yale and George Mason universities, the poll found that 81 percent of Hispanics believe global warming is happening compared to only 69 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Some 62 percent of Hispanics said they thought climate change was “very bad,” while only 41 percent of non-Hispanic whites thought so. Hispanics were also more convinced about the scientific evidence of global warming, while many whites believed the science remains controversial.

When it comes to the government taking action, 66 percent of Hispanics said tackling climate change should be a “high” or “very high” priority, compared to only 48 percent of non-Hispanic whites. Some 41 percent of Hispanics said a “large scale effort” is required even if it has a big economic cost attached. An impressive 48 percent of Hispanics support the regulation of carbon emissions, compared to 28 percent of non-Hispanic whites. And an overwhelming 70 percent of Hispanics favor cap-and-trade legislation that places a limit on carbon emissions. Only 50 percent of non-Hispanic whites back the idea.”

All it takes is one trip to an agricultural valley somewhere in the Southwest to experience the heat, the pollution, air quality, and struggles that rural people have just to have access to clean water to gain an understanding of why Latinos care about environmental issues. I had a glimpse into these environmental justice issues this past summer in California’s Central Valley, where I saw playgrounds adjacent to fields that get sprayed with pesticides, heard from Valley residents who have issues the quality of water they are expected to drink and bathe in, and engaged with citizen-activists with the Center for Race, Poverty, and the Environment who are working to address the problems people having breathing in one of the most polluted air basins in the country. So really the polling doesn’t surprise me that Latinos express a need for something to be done regarding climate change legislation because I think that we realize that we pay for inaction with our health.

Just last week the LA Times did a feature on Kettleman City, a town in California’s Central Valley, that has a high incidence of birth defects:

I’m definitely in the camp that believes that climate change is happening. However, how quickly it is happening and what its effects ultimately will be are subject to debate. Some may say that we should have even fewer environmental regulations because they hinder business growth, but if we cannot remain healthy or even have clean basic resources, people won’t be in a position to consume and help fuel the economy.

There are obvious growing pains in transitioning to a more environmentally healthy way of living, but many organizations are already pushing for national energy and climate change legislation that will create more jobs.

What are your thoughts? How do you see Latinos fitting into the environmental movement and current campaign for climate legislation?

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Tags: community organizing and activism · Environment · Government Accountability · health care

24 responses so far ↓

  • 1 HispanicPundit // Apr 8, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    On the opposite end, environmentalism is largely a luxury of the rich – after all, the richer you are, the less you worry about economic growth and can afford to worry about the environment.

    And Latinos, especially those closer to the poverty level, will be the most negatively impacted by the downsides of environmental regulations (larger costs, job losses, and restrictions).

  • 2 webmaster // Apr 8, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    “And Latinos, especially those closer to the poverty level, will be the most negatively impacted by the downsides of environmental regulations (larger costs, job losses, and restrictions).”

    This may very well be the case, but I don’t think that environmentalism is entirely a “luxury of the rich.” For instance, what if I could only afford to consume what I could grow in my garden or could not afford a car and had to resort to riding a bike or taking public transportation? Are those environmental actions luxurious? I think that many Latinos already do or have done these things but haven’t labeled it ‘environmentalism’. For instance using, reusing, sharing, recycling can all have save costs or conserve actual material and financial resources.

    I think that with environmental issues…there tends to be a cost…but it comes down to whether we are willing to pay now, later or with our lives. For instance, I purchased a $20 stainless steel water bottle because I don’t care to purchase/drink bottled water. I feel that I have saved in the long run by using this bottle instead of paying $1 here and there for water. And I know that I’m not getting additional BPA exposure.

  • 3 ERocha // Apr 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Ah HP, I see you are still haven’t melted the ice around your heart. While you worry about the poor paying higher prices yada, yada, you seem not to worry about the same poor who happen to live in no man’s land of the US border, a place where international companies have polluted the environment. Where the residents wake up in the morning and proud say, “I love the stench of chemicals in the morning!”

    I see how much you care for the poor, especially here in Texas where expecting mothers are giving birth to babies without brains at eight times the nationwide rate – more frequently than anywhere else in the United States.

    I see you really have their best interest at heart, knowing they are sacrificing their expendable lives every day in toxic factories for the collective good.

  • 4 Wendy Carrillo // Apr 8, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Great piece. Those poll numbers reflect an interesting perspective on Latinos. My father knows just about every herb for natural teas, and grows them in the yard. He can tell you the weather patterns based on air density and sky coloration and he can make dead plants come back to life! I find this fascinating because of his natural connection to the earth, something which i think a lot of Latino families hold true – and i dont think it’s a leap to say that a connection to nature, is a natural connection to environmental issues. The difference may be in the action taken to preserve the environment, and maybe the very practical thinking of “what the hell are we doing to the earth?”
    sigh.

  • 5 HispanicPundit // Apr 9, 2010 at 12:11 am

    The fundamental trade off between environmentalism is economic growth. And the poor should and do care more about economic growth…what part of this do you disagree with?

    Its not just in the United States, its an international trade off. Take China, for example, a country where millions of people are moving out of poverty yearly. Great news for those interested in poverty reduction. But bad news for environmentalism, as China moving from rural agricultural society to urban industrialized society means they will burn alot more coal (coal being one of the cheapest sources of energy), thereby increasing the production of carbon dioxide. Some environmentalists, seeing the contradiction try to get around it by making an argument that the environmental impact also affects China (and poor areas in general) the most, but that impact pales in comparison to the economic impact that environmental regulations would impose. Economic development, in many inherent ways, is really at odds with environmental development.

    XP, read what I said above again, I’m not denying that there are in fact negative affects from pollution. What I am arguing is that there are also negative affects of environmental regulation. And those negative affects – job losses, higher costs, slower economy – primarily fall on the poor. And when you are especially poor, like poor peasants in China, you care alot less about the lives lost 20 or so years from now than the lives possibly lost today.

  • 6 Reyfeo // Apr 9, 2010 at 4:40 am

    ERocha has obviously never lived in Latin-America…just so you know; I’m in Colombia this month. Any bad day in LA (and I have lived here too) is better than any good day here. Latinos, and I’m talking about the real US Citizens, are tired of getting blamed for China, Mexico and all the rest of the countries in the world who could care less about this issue. American cities are clean and do their best keep the environment clean. What they don’t want is to be tax over it. Also, and I’m sure to insult you lefties out there, the reason the border if so polluted is because of all the illegal’s that live there…when they come here they don’t leave their way of living behind…trash on the side of the road is just that, trash. I bet ERocha lives in a nice community where the HOA ensures that all his neighbors stay in line…try living in that hood where the bulk of your neighbors are from Mexico…they could care less about the air, or local pollution in neighborhoods.

    Also, the beauty of this country is that even the Illegal’s have a right to move out of any area where the smell of sulfur isn’t at their every breath when they wake up. Preferably back to their country, but they don’t why? The US is the MUCH LESSER of all the evils with this environmental issue.

  • 7 klem // Apr 9, 2010 at 8:50 am

    You folks are off track here, climate change is about CO2 emissions only, it isn’t about pollution. What matters is how much CO2 you are emitting into the air, it has nothing to do with how much you are polluting the ground and water. If you have a company which is polluting the environment, you simply buy all of the carbon credits you want from the nearest climate exchange and you’re off the hook. you can continue to pollute and poison everything around you. You have the credits in your hand so you’re safe. And with carbon credits selling for about $1 per ton, companies are buying 50 years worth at a time. And they will continue to pollute the environment.

    In Europe, people are photocopying the carbon credit certificates and selling them over and over again. They’re making a killing.
    Read here http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article7066315.ece

    And many people want this sytem here! i think you had better do some reading about carbon emissions and carbon credits. time to wake up.

  • 8 Anna // Apr 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Re: I think that many Latinos already do or have done these things but haven’t labeled it ‘environmentalism’

    Exactly. Home gardens are not new to many Latinos, and neither is riding a bike to work. I wish more of us would hold on to those habits.

    I hope nobody is assuming that support for a cleaner environment will automatically translate into support for that bogus cap and trade legislation.

  • 9 Anna // Apr 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    On this topic…NO on Prop 16.

  • 10 HispanicPundit // Apr 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Anna: I was just reading about Proposition 16 now, and as you could probably already guess, I am voting a big fat YES! Looks like a great bill. :-)

  • 11 Anna // Apr 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    It’s not a great bill.

    PG&E is funding Prop 16. They want to stop Marin County and San Francisco from starting their own power companies. They want to block competition.

    They want to change the vote necessary to start a power company from a majority vote to a 2/3 vote. In a democracy, majority rules. But PG& E hates democracy, so they want to change the rules.

    PG&E was the corporation ordered to pay a 333 million dollar settlement to the people of Hinkley, CA in 1995 because they poisoned their groundwater. They made a movie about it called “Erin Brockovich.”

    In 2006 PG&E was ordered to pay 335 million for contaminating the groundwater in Kettleman Hills, CA.

    When corporations spend millions of dollars to get a proposition passed, especially a corporation with a record like PG&E, it is not something
    in your best interest.

    NO on 16.

  • 12 webmaster // Apr 10, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    But HispanicPundit will tell us how wonderful PG&E is and that its ok for municipalities to need a supermajority to try to pursue other energy options that the communities may actually want. I think that I read somewhere that PG&E has some of the highest rates in the nation or something to that effect. But it’s the ‘free market’ and PG&E is wonderful and does right by its customers all the time.

    I would bet that HP isn’t even a PG&E customer.

  • 13 HispanicPundit // Apr 12, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Personally, I favor the stronger voter check of Prop 16.

    But you (webmaster) bring up a good point, you write: “I think that I read somewhere that PG&E has some of the highest rates in the nation or something to that effect. But it’s the ‘free market’ and PG&E is wonderful and does right by its customers all the time.”

    Lets assume for the sake of argument that this is true, namely, that PG&E has “some of the highest rates in the nation”. If that is so, given the spirit of this blog post, wouldn’t you say that is a good thing? I mean, that is precisely what cap and trade and even a carbon tax try to accomplish: matching the price of energy to its true costs, including negative externalities – which would, in affect, raise energy prices. Environmentalism argues that energy is too cheap, the costs do not take into account the public damage they inflict, and cap and trade and a carbon tax are there to more properly align the two.

    But higher energy prices are bad for the poor you argue. I agree. They harm especially minorities and those trying to make ends meet. Well now you see my point in this whole discussion: the fundamental trade off between environmentalism is economic growth, and the poor are especially sensitive to drops in economic growth. Which is why I take the poor side over the environmental side most of the time.

    You on the other hand, either don’t understand the economics involved (my guess), or willingly hold two incoherent beliefs. But that’s my point: you have to choose one or the other, you can’t have both.

  • 14 Anna // Apr 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    You’re brainwahsed into thinking that higher prices are a good thing. Sad…

    It’s not a “voter check.” PG&E is trying to neutralize our vote, so that they can continue to overcharge us for power. Turn off talk radio….sigh

  • 15 HispanicPundit // Apr 13, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Anna,

    You missed my point. I don’t want higher prices. That is precisely why conservatives argue for free markets (which, btw, the energy markets DONT have, they have A LOT OF governmental regulations) – we want as low a price as possible.

    This is in stark contrast to environmentalist who in fact do want higher prices. So the trade off here is: environmental protection and higher energy prices or lower energy prices and higher environmental harm. I choose lower prices. Which side do you think your poor minority would be on? And given that this is the same kind of trade inherent in environmental debates, which side do you think the poor in general would likely side on?

    Webmaster, your preference?

  • 16 Anna // Apr 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Prices won’t come down unless there is competition. That’s what PG&E is trying to prevent by passing Prop 16.

    And conservatives don’t argue for free markets. You really have to turn off talk radio. They argue for corporate monopolies, which stifle free markets. Without competiton, there is no such thing as a free market.

  • 17 HispanicPundit // Apr 14, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Webmaster, anything?

  • 18 webmaster // Apr 15, 2010 at 12:00 am

    “This is in stark contrast to environmentalist who in fact do want higher prices. So the trade off here is: environmental protection and higher energy prices or lower energy prices and higher environmental harm. ”

    In theory, this might be the case, but don’t confuse your ideology with the reality. The reality being that even people who are more environmentally conscious or aware are price sensitive as well.

    Environmental protection does not always have to equal higher prices for the individual. For instance, I know some people who rely heavily on bus and Metrolink transportation in LA, and their individual transportation costs are less than paying for gas, car payments, car maintenance, insurance, parking etc. It isn’t always this scenario that HP paints above about ‘environmentalists wanting higher prices’.

    And in regards to fuel costs, there seems to be some compelling evidence that it is related to speculation on oil futures (in addition to supply and demand dynamics of course), not environmentalists.

    As for Prop 16:

    http://phylogenomics.blogspot.com/2010/03/ca-proposition-16-pg-outrageous.html

  • 19 HispanicPundit // Apr 15, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Take the only policy example you gave in the post: cap-and-trade legislation, do you deny that its goal is to bring the prices of energy more aligned to its negative externalities (ie pollution, carbon dioxide emissions etc)? Do you disagree that doing so would in fact raise energy prices? Also, do you deny that the more environmentalist you are (ie, the more you believe in the harm of pollution, carbon dioxide etc), the more those prices would increase?

    Let me give you a little primer on the logic behind cap and trade (same logic with a carbon tax): the argument is that the current price of energy is artificially low because it does not take into account issues like pollution, carbon dioxide emissions, and other harmful environmental concerns (negative externalities). The reason behind a cap and trade system is to more properly align the price to its environmental damage. To include the environmental “costs” into the price. The hope is that people will use less of energy (basic economics: as the price goes up, people use less) and find alternative means of doing the same thing. In other words, the fact that a cap and trade system raises energy prices is the whole Raison d’être of it in the first place. That is the goal, it is not incidental.

    Which is all fine and good from an environmental stand point, but say you were a poor minority…you wouldn’t be so supportive of it then, now would you? This is why we say that environmentalism is a luxury of the rich (and its no coincidence that its usually limousine liberals who are for it).

  • 20 webmaster // Apr 15, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    “but say you were a poor minority…you wouldn’t be so supportive of it then, now would you?”

    Your point about pricing is valid to a certain extent, and in the original post, I admit that I don’t know the socioeconomic status of the sample. Do you think that these were limousine Hispanics, middle class Hispanics, or working class Hispanics? Or were they Hispanics in places like Kettleman City where people are experiencing birth defects and other illnesses that may be caused by environmental damage?

    You could also argue that if more people started to use alternative sources of energy (wind, solar, biofuel) that the demand for fossil fuel may decline and its price could drop since fewer are demanding it.

    Is it still a luxury of the rich to recycle your cans and plastics for cash? What about capturing rain water with big bins? Do you equate that kind of conservation with being a limousine liberal?

  • 21 HispanicPundit // Apr 15, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Do you think that these were limousine Hispanics, middle class Hispanics, or working class Hispanics?

    I think talk is cheap. If you asked me if I supported carbon dioxide reduction, lower levels of pollution, and general environmental goals, I would say yes as well. I mean, who wouldn’t? The real question isn’t whether you would support these things in a vacuum, the real question is whether you would make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish those goals.

    A more informative question would have been something like: would you be willing to tolerate higher energy prices for a reduction in carbon dioxide? This question would get a very different answer.

    So to answer your original question, I think that the real reason you get more Hispanics to answer in the affirmative than say, your typical white person, is that Hispanics are more likely to be ignorant of the trade-offs involved (language barriers, less interest in politics, higher poverty rates etc). They just don’t know what “cap and trade” means to them. How it would affect their lives.

    You ask a good question when you write, Is it still a luxury of the rich to recycle your cans and plastics for cash? What about capturing rain water with big bins? Do you equate that kind of conservation with being a limousine liberal?

    This is actually a very good counterexample. In this case you are right, recycling and environmental efforts that costs you in time instead of in money are actually progressive instead of regressive – they hurt the wealthy more than the poor. After all, time is money, and the wealthier you are, the more time costs you. But even this isn’t as clear cut as you assume: remember, many recycling programs are based on the extra costs at the cash register when you are buying the product. They charge you an extra, say, $0.15 cents for the bottle in order to give it back to the person who recycles it. This way it creates a supply and demand market for recycling. So even then, do the poor get back that full $0.15 in value from recycling? Hard to tell, especially when you consider that that $0.15 hurts them alot more than the limousine liberal – yet the limousine liberal benefits equally from the reduction in pollution.

    Either way, I fully grant that not all environmentalism is more harmful on the poor than on the rich but the vast majority certainly is (ie, cap and trade, global warming policies, even smog check and gas taxes etc) .

  • 22 Michelle // Apr 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Prices won’t come down unless there is competition. That’s what PG&E is trying to prevent by passing Prop 16.

    And conservatives don’t argue for free markets. You really have to turn off talk radio. They argue for corporate monopolies, which stifle free markets. Without competiton, there is no such thing as a free market.

  • 23 Nick // Apr 25, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Personally, I favor the stronger voter check of Prop 16.

    But you (webmaster) bring up a good point, you write: “I think that I read somewhere that PG&E has some of the highest rates in the nation or something to that effect. But it’s the ‘free market’ and PG&E is wonderful and does right by its customers all the time.”

    Lets assume for the sake of argument that this is true, namely, that PG&E has “some of the highest rates in the nation”. If that is so, given the spirit of this blog post, wouldn’t you say that is a good thing? I mean, that is precisely what cap and trade and even a carbon tax try to accomplish: matching the price of energy to its true costs, including negative externalities – which would, in affect, raise energy prices. Environmentalism argues that energy is too cheap, the costs do not take into account the public damage they inflict, and cap and trade and a carbon tax are there to more properly align the two.

    But higher energy prices are bad for the poor you argue. I agree. They harm especially minorities and those trying to make ends meet. Well now you see my point in this whole discussion: the fundamental trade off between environmentalism is economic growth, and the poor are especially sensitive to drops in economic growth. Which is why I take the poor side over the environmental side most of the time.

    You on the other hand, either don’t understand the economics involved (my guess), or willingly hold two incoherent beliefs. But that’s my point: you have to choose one or the other, you can’t have both.

  • 24 Reg825 // Aug 11, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    Since the immigration debate is very much a part of the Latino experience: did you hear about this report that tracks how white supremacists are trying to infiltrate the environmental movement to generate anti-immigrant xenophobic sentiments? I wished this were hyperbole, but it’s actually quite disturbing. You can access the study here:
    http://www.economicrefugee.net/economic-refugee-news-weekly-roundup-080710/

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