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Photo by US EPA.

Photo by US EPA.

There has been a flurry of environmental and conservation news these past few weeks—especially with connections to and support from Latino leaders and organizations. From new National Monuments to calls on Marco Rubio to step up on climate change, Latino organizations are increasingly visible in the conservation movement at several levels—while keeping the focus on the needs and contributions of Latino communities.

Two such recent announcements exemplify this, strengthening a connection between a key issue in Latino communities with conservation priorities: The natural environment as a platform for community health.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) reintroduced the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act.  That was followed this week with an announcement President Obama and the EPA declaring a move to new carbon regulations under the Clean Air Act—regulations that ultimately are meant to help address climate change.

Both are conservation calls to action, but it is important how they include salud as a key reason and need—highlighting the connection between healthy communities and a healthy environment. Acción en conservación por nuestra salud, para nuestra salud.

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act is simple in its approach. It “authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to carry out programs and activities that connect Americans, especially children, youth, and families, with the outdoors.” This would be done through a variety of strategies in partnership at the local, state, and federal level. But again, more importantly it elevates to the national agenda the notion that to have healthy communities requires access and opportunities with the outdoors.

I’ve noted in past posts how getting more Latinos outdoors también es para nuestra salud, and acting on climate change is a health issue. The outdoors provides a host of health benefits and this is especially more crucial as so many Latino communities suffer disproportionally along with the health of the environment—I called for a “Climate Grito” back in 2012.

As George B. Sánchez- Tello, who heads up the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy, shared with me recently, “We know Raza youth have a disproportionate lack of access to open spaces at a time when they also have disproportionate rates of asthma, diabetes, and obesity. These are long-term chronic illnesses. And just as health has multifaceted challenges, there are a variety of approaches to addressing them.  Getting kids out in the wilderness is a good one.”

Thus legislation and efforts like the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act play an important role in strengthening the health connections between Latino communities and the outdoors. This also points to the need to have healthy protected outdoor spaces as a public health asset for communities. We can heal the outdoors as we heal ourselves and vice versa.

The carbon regulation announcement by President Obama and the EPA is a piece of climate change policy action. But the framing for the need and reason to take this action was less about climate change in general and much less about abstract impacts—or the effects on polar bears. It was a direct public health framing mentioning kids in particular, and even more specifically a message of how it affects “kids of color”.  As the President announced in his address “Often, [asthma and other breathing problems] are aggravated by air pollution – pollution from the same sources that release carbon and contribute to climate change.  And for the sake of all our kids, we’ve got to do more to reduce it.” This is further demonstrated by the hashtags used by the announcement: #ActOnClimate and #CleanAir4Kids.

This message was also communicated in Spanish for the Latino community and various Latino organizations have come out with support and comments on the action, from PRESENTE, to LULAC, to the National Hispanic Medical Association.

This brings us back to these two points: Health is a tangible connection for familias and communities—AND recognition that it has been an environmental justice health priority for Latino communities and other disproportionally affected communities throughout the US.

We know health matters to Latino communities, just as it matters to all communities. Using it as a connector to conservation outcomes is valid and makes sense. It is also another way to demonstrate that caring for the environment is caring for our comunidades, and that the outdoors es para nuestra salud—claro, after all, does our cultura and history not demonstrate how we’ve been part of conservation? Si sanamos el medio ambiente, sanamos a nuestra comunidad—y comunidades sanas necesitan un medio ambiente sano.

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