I have always thought that many of my Latino peers and elders were a bit more green even before it became en vogue or more timely because of the climate change debate. For instance, many I know will reuse items squeezing out the last bit of utility before finally tossing something in the trash or recycle bin. Many will readily grow gardens for fresh produce and along with that start a compost pile for fertilizer. And so many of our brothers and sisters will take public transportation and/or ride bicycles or carpool, and this transportation issue may be one that is more driven by economic circumstances than a desire to “be green” but nonetheless, many in our community have a level of environmental awareness.
This weekend a new poll was released by the Los Angeles Times and USC showing that majorities of Latinos polled worry about global warming, air pollution, and soil contamination. More specifically, the poll revealed the following:
“For example, 50% of Latinos and 46% of Asians who responded to the poll said they personally worry a great deal about global warming, compared with 27% of whites. Two-thirds of Latinos and 51% of Asians polled said they worry a great deal about air pollution, compared with 31% of whites.
Similarly, 85% of Latinos and 79% of Asians said they worry a great or a fair amount about contamination of soil and water by toxic waste, compared with 71% of whites.
The poll surveyed 1,689 adults by telephone. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.”
I wasn’t particularly surprised by these findings given some of the recent environmental concerns in California’s Central Valley. But I checked in with conservation advocate Marce Gutierrez for her reaction to this polling. When I asked her why she thought so many Latinos expressed concern about these environmental issues compared to other groups, she offered this, “Because they suffer the consequences of pollution the most. Period. People of color and lower income people either tend to live next to transportation corridors (freeways, ports, truck yards), and industrial complexes will increasingly be placed next to these communities as well. In the Central Valley, which could be the posterchild for environmental justice in California, air pollution is so bad that one out of five kids gets asthma. This has galvanized the community to become vigilant and politically active to the point where you can see large groups of valley residents at the capitol in Sacramento advocating for a clean environment on a regular basis.”
When asked about why there don’t seem to be as many Latinos in the upper leadership of traditional conservation organizations, Gutierrez expressed that minority communities have not been accepted or viewed as legitimate stakeholders within the conservation movement, while these communities have always tended to express a desire for clean air and water. She expressed that this may have to do with the tactics employed to engage Latino and other ethnic communities. My sense is that the environmental justice and conservation movements present opportunities for our communities to express our policy concerns more widely, especially given these latest poll results.