Latinos Should Advocate for a Healthy Future this Earth Day

For many, Earth Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the planet, rejoice outdoors, and perhaps plant a tree. For us, however, this year’s drought has been a harsh reminder of the increasingly extreme weather patterns produced by climate change.

The greenhouse gases and co-pollutants in our environment impact weather patterns and have serious public health impacts on all Californians. They also impact our economy, stifling agricultural production by reducing the available supply of water and killing crops.

On this Earth Day, Latinos from all across the country are reflecting on how the health and economic burden of considerable climate change falls disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color.

Latino communities in particular are frequently located near high-polluting industry, and as a result, disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution from toxic waste and other chemicals in our water and soil. Pollutants form ground level ozone, which exacerbate asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

This makes it imperative that low-income communities and communities of color, especially Latinos, advocate for action at the local and federal level in order to slow climate change.

At the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, we help connect Latino communities from across the state to participate in and develop public policy that combats the health impacts of climate change.  In working directly with those affected, we have been deeply troubled to see the impact that our communities bear.

This coming summer, while Latino workers are harvesting California’s agricultural bounty in the increasingly scorching heat and building the homes that are helping our economy recover, drought and extreme weather will not be their only concern.

These laborers are also exposed to ground-level ozone for much of the day, which the Natural Resources Defense Council has found to increase their risk of smog-related health problems. And as climate change produces higher and higher temperatures, ground level ozone will form more easily and frequently, increasing our communities’ exposure.

Compounding those health risks is the proximity of polluting industries to Latino and other communities of color. In November 2012, NAACP and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization released “Coal Blooded,” a report which found that six million people live within three miles of the 378 coal-fired power plants in the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, these communities have an $18,400 per capita income and 39 percent of them were communities of color. Those who live in the shadow of the 75 worst polluting plants are poorer still, and a whopping 53 percent of them, are from communities of color.

Given this, it is deeply concerning, though not surprising, that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports Latinos are three times more likely to die from asthma than other groups. It should also not be surprising that Latinos are fighting back by advocating for strong action on climate change.

Latinos’ concern for the wellbeing of their families and communities has been a major driving force behind the work we do at the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California.  Every day, I am inspired by the tirelessness with which Latino community groups and organizations fervently advocate for action on climate change.

I am not the only one that has noticed.  Across the country, Latinos are expressing their desire for action.  On January 24, 2014, the Los Angeles Times reported that a recent poll conducted by Latino Decisions and Voces Verdes found that 90 percent of Latinos thought it was important for the U.S. government to address climate change and 80 percent favored presidential action to fight carbon pollution.

Last year, after Latinos heavily influenced the presidential election, 27 Latino organizations wrote to President Obama and the EPA demanding action on climate change.

The drought in California is only one example of the increasingly common extreme weather systems that will disproportionately impact Latino communities.  Latinos now make up a plurality of Californians. This Earth Day, our communities need to speak out against the dangers of climate change. We must continue to harness our political clout to demand action for the sake of our planet and our health.

Xavier Morales is the President of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. 

This article originally appeared in Voxxi.