Climate Change: As CO2 Increases, So Too Must Latino Voices




The news was clear: Carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high in 2011 and were looking to do so again for 2012. While some may still question the “validity” of climate science or whether “humans have anything to do with it”, the vast majority of science consensus points to the fact that climate change is real and we people, are a key cause of it. We can argue it, sure, but if we put that to rest, we will still be dealing with the reality and consequences of climate change—and as Latinos it is best we are part of the decision-making process as an informed community. Part of this is due to the fact we are a growing and significant part of the demographic; the other part is because the effects of climate change tend to disproportionally affect communities of color.

In talking about dealing with climate change, there are generally two categories:  mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation focuses more on reducing or preventing the effects. These are generally approaches to reducing carbon emissions, such as a carbon tax or shifting to renewable energy sources. Adaptation, meanwhile, focuses on how we adjust with the effects of global climate change—“how we roll with the punches” if you will. These are generally approaches like building seawalls or moving away from high-risk areas. We’ve been doing poorly on mitigation and more and more have to confront the hard challenges of adaptation, usually after some catastrophic event—as demonstrated most recently by Hurricane Sandy.

Latinos have been consistently demonstrating through poll after poll that we care about the environment and are ready to take action—which it is hoped will continue on the local level and really manifest itself politically at the national level.

But to be ready partners in the dialogue and solution-making process we must ensure we are engaging in the understanding and awareness of the issues. This is not to imply that many of us are not doing so already, or that there is not a foundation for it—rather it is to express that we continue to elevate environmental issues as key players reflective of our demographic might. In addition, there is a need to deal with “climate silence”, the idea that it is not appropriate to talk about the effects of climate change when a significant climate-related event or tragedy (like Sandy) occurs. But Latinos should add their voices loud and clear on that as well.

With that in mind, here are some of the big categories Latinos should be paying attention to in regards to climate change.  To be clear: Yes, environmental and local issues connected to health and economic factors are important for communities of color—and they need to still be addressed. But the discussion on the big themes is happening and we need significant Latino voices as part of that.

On land, a key issue is permafrost melting. This is often an under-discussed issue but it has big implications. If the permafrost keeps melting, it has the potential to release a significant amount of carbon into the atmosphere. A second issue is the loss of marshes and other habitats that can help with mitigation through carbon sequestration, or adaptation like flood control. Marshes and estuaries are also rich and diverse habitats that provide highly beneficial ecosystem services.

In the air, we are generally looking at the “greenhouse effect” where increased atmospheric carbon, along with other gases, trap heat and contribute to “global warming” as described by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”.

At sea, we have ocean acidification and the more headline-grabbing sea-level rise. Sea-level rise may receive more news stories but ocean acidification has great implications since it would wipe out whole ecosystems and species—simply put we are putting so much carbon in the ocean that it is throwing off the pH balance. This would be in addition to other conservation issues such as fisheries collapse, thrash accumulation, and ocean dead zones.

Thus the challenges are great and there are some organizations like the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change taking a lead, but I think we need to continue to develop a robust host of Latino organizations dealing with these issues.

Thus, rather than having a “climate silence”, Latinos have the opportunity to be a vibrant voice in advocating for policies to deal with climate change and engaging in the discussion—whether it is asking the general questions or leading with a “climate grito”.


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