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Arizona Opinion: Vote to ensure Latinos' success in face of climate change

  • Updated

Vianey Olivarria

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writers:

Latinos are the engine of the United States economy, and as the fastest-growing population, our success is tied to the success of the entire country.

While Latinos have faced economic challenges exacerbated by systemic disparities and the COVID-19 pandemic, their GDP remains a domineering $2.8 trillion, a testament to this community’s economic potential and resilience. In Arizona, Latinos contribute $92 billion to the GDP.

Such a powerhouse economic clout leaves little doubt that if we want to maintain a strong U.S. economy, our government leaders must prioritize the Latino economy. Our elected officials must focus on identifying challenges that threaten to destabilize the Latino economy. One of these threats is climate change.

The Latino community’s economic health, robust as it may be, is not immune to the adverse effects of climate change on the economy. If there’s something we’ve seen each time states like Arizona reach record high temperatures, California and Texas suffer wildfires and droughts, and Florida endures another hurricane, it’s that these effects caused by climate change pose a severe threat to the Latino community’s livelihood and economic stability. The reality of the climate crisis has become more evident: We cannot discuss the Latino community’s economic well-being without discussing climate change.

A Pew Research Center study found Latinos are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, facing climate-driven extreme weather and air pollution at higher rates. That’s because a significant number of Latinos live in areas most adversely affected by climate change and pollution, including Florida, California, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada.

This combination causes a ripple effect of consequences that ultimately impacts Latino families’ ability to put food on the table and sustain their families.

The cost of climate disasters such as floods, fires, and heat waves puts a financial burden on Latinos, especially those already facing financial constraints. For instance, we’ve seen how hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Florida are wreaking havoc on the Latino community’s economic well-being as they struggle to deal with the devastation on their property and displacement from their homes. The destruction caused by climate disasters has a long-term effect on the Latino community by destroying the potential generational wealth we are building as a community.

On the health front, Latinos, especially children, face health risks due to living in highly contaminated areas that are detrimental to their well-being and can contribute to rising healthcare costs for families. In addition, Latino children already face higher rates of respiratory illness such as asthma—the CDC reports that Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die of asthma than non-Hispanic children, and 14 percent of Latino children already have asthma. Think of the impact that increasing air pollution has on the quality of life of Latino children and the severity of the economic burden that a respiratory illness can cause on already struggling families.

Latinos also work in industries negatively impacted by climate change, including agriculture, construction, landscaping, and others that require being outside for prolonged periods. Droughts and record-high temperatures in Arizona, Texas and California are impacting the livelihood of agricultural workers, not just in the fields but in the food processing factories. The situation is deeply troubling in Latino-heavy Maricopa and Pima counties, which, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, could see around 120 additional deaths per 100,000 in the next 20-year period from extreme heat.

In order to protect the Latino community’s economic stability, it’s crucial to address the issue of climate change. Climate change is a monster whose tentacles reach every aspect of our lives, including our health, quality of life, and economic stability. This is why it’s more important than ever to mobilize the Latino community to demand action on climate change.

In this midterm election, Latinos and Latinas have the power to vote and demand that all candidates and elected officials support bold plans to make more progress on the climate crisis, for climate justice and safeguard the Latino community’s economic well-being. It’s time we recognize that climate change is not just an environmental issue but an economic one. And Latinos, especially Latina moms, can protect the planet and our economy for our children’s future.

Vianey Olivarria is the state co-director of Chispa Arizona. Nathalie Rayes is the president and CEO of the Latino Victory Project.

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