Editor’s note July 2016: It’s Latino Conservation Week, and to celebrate, we’re re-posting this favorite article from last year. Did you know that fully 74 percent of Latino Americans said setting national standards to prevent global warming and climate change is extremely important to them? Impressive numbers. Read on for more…

Most American Latinos might not fit the typical “greenie” stereotype, and most say they don’t refer to themselves as “environmentalists,” but a recent Earthjustice and Green Latinos poll, conducted by Latino Decisions, found that registered Latino voters are environmentalists at heart, caring deeply about environmental impacts on their families and putting environmental protection as a top priority.

More surprising, perhaps, is that Latino voters see certain environment issues as higher priorities than even immigration reform. For example, while 8 in 10 US Latinos said it is extremely or very important to pass comprehensive immigration reform, fully 9 in 10 feel that way about enforcing and strengthening the Clean Water Act to protect our waterways and clean drinking water. Smog and air pollution also rank higher than immigration. Climate change is also viewed as a higher priority than other pressing national issues that are getting more media attention, including fighting against terrorism (75 percent) and raising the minimum wage (68 percent). Latino voters (91 percent) put “the economy, jobs and economic recovery” as a top priority, but 6 in 10 believe that stronger environmental laws would improve economic growth and create new jobs.

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  • These attitudes are important to note—especially as national candidates vie for support in 2016—since Latinos are the second-largest population in the United States. Attention, presidential candidates! The survey found that 72 percent of Latinos would be more willing to vote for an official who prioritizes protecting the environment.

    Climate change is a big deal

    Latino voters’ attitudes on the environment often outpace those of the general American electorate.
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    The poll, which was conducted in English and Spanish, reinforces previous research defining Latino voters as some of the most solid supporters of environmental measures and climate change policy. Climate change is a top concern for a majority of Latino voters. Indeed, Latino voters’ attitudes often outpace the general population of American voters on these issues. Here are highlights from the Latino Decisions findings with some comparisons to similar questions asked of the general population of American voters elsewhere:

    Here are some other highlights revealing strong environmental values among Latino voters, including support for action on climate change and clean energy:

    • 74 percent of Latino Americans said setting national standards to prevent global warming and climate change is extremely important.
    • 85 percent of Latino voters say it is extremely or very important to reduce smog and air pollution.
    • 84 percent of Latinos support the US mandating more clean energy sources, like solar and wind power.
    • 78 percent of Latinos said developing and setting requirements for clean energy sources like wind and solar is extremely important.
    • 78 percent of Latinos support state clean energy standards to prevent global warming and climate change.
    • 82 percent of Latinos think Congress should support the President’s current efforts to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

    Climate change is personal

    Experts have suggested that the high level of concern about climate change among these communities may be due in large part to the fact that many Latinos are on the front lines of climate impacts, experiencing the effects earlier, more often, and more personally than many others. And survey responses illustrate this, with 78 percent of Latinos stating they have already personally experienced the effects of climate change in their state. By comparison, Gallup polling among American voters overall indicated that 62 percent do not feel that climate change will be a serious threat to them personally or to their way of life within their lifetime, and only 55 percent thought “the effects of global warming” had already begun. A survey conducted earlier this year by the New York Times, Stanford University, and Resources for the Future found that 54 percent of Hispanics saw global warming as extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of whites.

    Enviro groups are missing out on powerful engagement opportunities with key frontline communities.
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    Notably, 66 percent of Latinos are worried about the effects of climate change on their families living in other countries. In addition, Latino voters expressed concern about personal health threats from toxics and pollution. Sixty-seven percent are seriously concerned for themselves and their family about the health threat of air pollution in their city, and 68 percent of Latinos felt that contaminants in their drinking water were a serious threat to their health.

    These concerns are more reminders that climate change impacts are personal to these communities, with impacts already directly affecting their family members and loved ones.

    Opportunities for further engagement

    Perhaps the most important thing the survey highlighted is an opportunity for climate and energy policy champions and environmental groups to build their base and engagement among Latinos. While 62 percent of the Latinos surveyed said they care about the environment even if they do not consider themselves environmentalists, a scant 13 percent said they were a member of an environmental organization or group. In fact, 76 percent of Latinos said an environmental organization has never contacted them or encouraged them to engage in some action on behalf of the environment.

    If this survey shows us anything, it is that outreach in Latino communities is lacking. Environmental groups are missing out on powerful engagement opportunities with key frontline communities—not to mention an important voting bloc that is seemingly eager to lend its growing political clout to smart solutions for our climate.