Climate Change: Latinos Are Super-Worried

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More than three of four Latinos worry about global warming and climate change, a higher worry rate than their non-Latinos peers, according to a recent English and Spanish survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Why are Latinos so worried?

What policies can help? How willing are Latinos to take action, and how will that impact health equity and safer streets?

Salud America! is excited to launch a three-part series exploring the issue of climate change for Latinos.

Today we will tackle what climate change is, why Latinos are worried, and whether they should be. Part 2 will address what kinds of policies Latinos would support to address climate change. Part 3 will focus on a potential solution for both climate change and health equity.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is the rise in average surface temperatures on Earth.

The period from 1983 to 2012 was very likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 800 years in the Northern Hemisphere.

The average temperature has gone up 1.4° F over the past century, and could rise as much as 11.5° F over the next.

Climate experts and scientists around the globe have been working together since 1988 to assess and report on the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The first IPCC report was released in 1990 and states:

“Emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide. These increases will enhance the greenhouse effect, resulting on average in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface.”

IPCC reports are written by hundreds of scientists, with hundreds of contributing authors, and undergo multiple rounds of drafting and review by thousands of other experts.

Twenty years later and thousands of experts still agree.

In 2014, the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report states:

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Changes in the climate system can have many harmful effects, such as more frequent and more intense heatwaves, extreme precipitation events, storms, droughts, fires, and pest outbreaks.

North and Central America will face increased risk for extreme weather injury and death, reduced water availability, reduced food production and quality, higher energy costs for cooling, decreased productivity of outdoor-labor in warm climates, and damage to homes, businesses, and institutions. Additionally, urban areas will face even higher temperatures than rural areas due to the urban heat island effect.

Climate change affects your health more specifically, too, according to the American Public Health Association.

  • Aggravated respiratory illnesses due to pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, wildfires, and heatwaves.
  • Increased allergy-related illnesses due to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Aggravated cardiovascular disease due to pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and heatwaves.
  • Increased water-borne illness due to storms and floods resulting in water contamination.
  • Increased vector-borne disease due to storms, floods, changes in precipitation and changes in median temperature, which expand geographical range and changes in vector behaviors.
  • Increased risk for injury and death due to storms, floods, wildfires, and heatwaves.

The two largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are electric power and transportation. Within states, sources of carbon dioxide emissions vary by urban and rural areas, thus many cities conduct local greenhouse gas emissions inventories.

Latinos are Worried about Climate Change

In May 2017, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication surveyed 2,054 English and Spanish-speaking Latinos to investigate their current climate change knowledge, risk perceptions, policy support, behaviors, motivations, and barriers to political action.

They also conducted a nationally representative survey of U.S. 1,266 adults, including 1,140 non-Latinos.

Latinos were far more worried, as the data show:

  • Seven in 10 Latinos (70%) understand global warming is mostly human caused, including three-quarters of Spanish-language Latinos (76%), compared to 58% of non-Latinos.
  • More than six in 10 Latinos (63%) understand that most scientists think global warming is happening, compared to 49% of non-Latinos. Fewer than one in six Latinos (15%) think “there is a lot of disagreement among scientists” about whether or not global warming is happening, compared to 28% of non-Latinos.
  • More than three in four Latinos (78%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, including 82% of Spanish-language Latinos, compared to 57% of non-Latinos.
  • Half of Latinos (50%) think people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming, including 63% of Spanish-language Latinos, compared to 34% non-Latinos.

“Latinos are much more engaged with the issue of global warming than are non-Latinos,” according to the Yale report.

Should Latinos Be Worried?

Two maps from the study show how projected high temperatures and changes in precipitation will change agricultural yields and mortality rates in 2080. (Kopp, Hsiang, et al.)

In short, “yes.”

Climate change will intensify economic inequality in the U.S, hitting southern states the worst, according to the Climate Impact Lab.

U.S. Latinos are especially vulnerable to health threats posed by climate change because of where they live and work and a lack access to health care, according to another recent report.

Latino kids are twice as likely to die from asthma than their peers, a study found. Latino kids who live in areas with higher levels of air pollution have a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to another recent study.

What’s Next?

Latinos, the majority-minority in the United States, are wielding increasing political clout.

When it comes to supporting climate change policies and actions, the Yale report had some surprising findings about Latinos.

Be sure to check out the next two parts of our series:

  • Part 2: Latinos Support Big Policy Changes
  • Part 3: Actions to Solve Global Warming and Health Inequity

By the end, maybe you will find yourself wanting to take climate change action.

By The Numbers By The Numbers

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