Political calculus and moral calculus unfortunately don’t always line up. But when they do, it’s time to pay attention.
When it comes to American Latinos and climate change, the numbers are stacking up in a couple ways.
Let’s start with political calculus: The latest census reveals a major shift in the US voting population. As Latino Decisions reports, the number of Latino voters increased by 1.4 million between 2008 and 2012. “In total, nearly 3.7 million more minority votes were cast in 2012, while White votes dropped by 2 million.”
In 2011 Hispanics represented 16.7 percent of the nation’s total population. It’s projected that the number will be more like 30 percent by 2050. Further, it’s estimated that Latinos contributed more than $1 trillion to the economy in 2010.
Upshot: Latino voters are a force to be reckoned with. But you knew that.
Next up, Latino attitudes about climate change and the environment. In the latest national survey carried out by Latino Decisions and Voces Verdes, “a significant majority of Latinos were again shown to favor policies aimed at reducing air pollution and preventing climate change.” These numbers affirm previous polling among Latinos that shows a high degree of concern about global warming and support for solutions.
In this April survey, 84 percent of Latinos said they favor allowing the EPA to set safeguards to reduce air pollution. The researchers also asked: “If President Obama has the power to pass a rule that limits the pollution that causes climate change do you support him doing so?” A resounding 86 percent said yes.
On both these questions there’s a partisan gap among Latinos—like just about everybody else—with a 10 percentage point difference between Democrats and Republicans on the EPA question, and a 26 percentage point gap on the presidential action question. But, as Latino Decisions points out, it is noteworthy “that in both instances about three-quarters of Latino Republicans favored the proposals, a sound majority.”
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These findings repeat a pattern where Latino voters express stronger pro-conservation views than their Anglo counterparts (e.g. In February, 65 percent of American voters overall favor Obama taking “significant steps to address climate change now.”)
So, what about the moral calculus?
The moral case for climate action is laid out beautifully in an open letter to President Obama from an impressive array of leading national Latino organizations. The letter spells out just how personal, concrete, and close to home the health and economic impacts from climate change really are for the families these organizations represent:
Our community’s exposure to polluted air and its health consequences makes us particularly aware of the importance of limiting the carbon pollution that drives climate change and extreme weather events. Increased temperatures worsen smog and threaten the health of those who can least afford it… Millions of people in our communities are often at an even greater risk of the damaging health impacts of smog. Latinos often are on the front lines enduring extreme weather events driven by climate change including heat waves, powerful storms, drought, and wildfires which impact our families, our businesses and our ability to thrive as a community and as a nation.
Our members and supporters share your concerns about climate change and are eager to see your administration act now. This is the time for us to rise to the challenge. We once again pledge to work with you to support your efforts so that together we may secure a healthy future for our community and for future generations.
The moral calculus is clear. For Latino families, this is about protecting children and communities from the impacts of climate change as well as the serious health problems caused by pollution.
And, given the evolving political terrain the nation is navigating, I would think that any political leader worth their salt would take heed when a message this clear and powerful comes from politically influential organizations like these.