New Ways to Engage U.S. Latinos on Climate and Health

By path2positive

One of ecoAmerica’s major goals for 2017, according to president Bob Perkowitz, is to “ramp up discussion on climate equity with our partners” and to “integrate all cultural and ethnic groups into talking about climate.” That’s where the growing, diverse U.S. Latino community is poised to play a pivotal role.  Representing 17 percent of the US population—56 million people-- it is expected to encompass 29 percent by 2060.

Already prominent in all sectors of U.S. society, Latinos are becoming climate leaders in population centers like Miami and Los Angeles, where sea level rise and drought are tangible realities. To fully tap this potential and engage Latinos more effectively, ecoAmerica conducted three stages of research to better understand the attitudes, values, and priorities of Latinos around climate change and to discover the words, phrases, and messages that most closely align with these concerns.

The result is the Let's Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate U.S. Latinos report and webinar, released December 1. Attended by nearly 100 people, the live discussion featured Perkowitz; Jonathan Voss, vice president of Lake Research Partners; Kirra Krygsman, ecoAmerica’s research manager; and Adrianna Quintero, executive director and founder of Voces Verdes, a Latino environmental advocacy organization. (The block quotes in this blog are Quintero's words.)

The first part of the webinar provided an overview of the study’s methods and findings. The top insights:

  • Some 85 percent of Latinos not only accept that climate change is happening and that humans contribute to it, but also are more concerned about the topic than the American public at large. Those who speak primarily Spanish, including recent immigrants, are the most concerned of all.
  • The cultural beliefs and values that most resonated with Latinos in terms of climate were a sense of moral responsibility and concern for their family’s welfare. 
  • This ethic of care extends to a belief that government should act on climate change-- including holding polluters accountable-- and a willingness to act personally and collectively to make a difference.
  • Most Latinos surveyed expressed optimism that a clean-energy economy will create jobs and not cost too much.

Climate change affects us here in the U.S., it affects our family abroad, and it affects our futures.

The second part of the webinar focused on how to use the right language to turn Latinos’ climate concern into action. As the study showed, some types of communication work better than others.

  • Words count. For example, it’s more empowering to say “we” instead of “you” or talk about protecting “air, water, and land” for the next generations rather than “saving the planet” or polar bears.
  • Don’t blind people with science.  Instead, make climate change personally and locally relevant by asking questions, telling stories, and presenting opportunities.
  • Messages should be inclusive. We need to emphasize that climate solutions benefit all Americans. 

While the Let's Talk Climate guide can be used by anyone to more effectively engage Latino audiences, it’s best if the messenger comes from within the Latino community. For full details, download the report here. You can listen to a recording of the webinar here.

Health Connections

While these insights apply in fields across the board, they are especially relevant to health care professionals working with Latino patients and in predominantly Latino neighborhoods. Health is a powerful driver of climate concern and action in Latino communities, which are often located near polluting industries such as refineries and power plants. These communities suffer disproportionately from health concerns caused by the drivers and effects of climate change.

Consider these statistics assembled by ecoAmerica partner Voces Verdes:

  • More than 60 percent of Latinos live in states that are among the most affected by severe heat, air pollution, and flooding.
  • One out every two Latino Americans live in counties that frequently violate air-pollution standards; consequently, Latino children are 60 percent more likely to develop asthma than non-Hispanic white children.
  • Latinos comprise almost half of U.S. farm production workers and more than a quarter of construction workers, outdoor occupations that expose them to unhealthy heat exposure.
  • Many in the Latino population are under-insured or uninsured, meaning preventable illnesses can become disabling or life-threatening.

A desire to alleviate these health impacts is one key component in translating Latinos’  pre-existing climate concern and motivation into action. But what might that look like on the ground?

From Theory to Practice

Voces Verdes’ communications and organizing work of over the past two years provides one model. Using techniques that dovetail with Let’s Talk Climate’s recommendations – and are informed by lived experience – the organization works to ensure that Latino voices are heard in Congress, at international forums, and in the media. 

Founded in 2009, Voces Verdes is a national coalition of Latino leaders from many sectors calling for a move away from fossil fuels and toward a clean-energy, green jobs economy. Health is a big focus: For example, Voces Verdes’ clean-air efforts emphasize protecting health and families.

Now is the time to unite, to make sure the voices of Latinos are heard.

When a crisis or opportunity arises that will spotlight these issues or advance their goals, Voces Verdes mobilizes with like-minded organizations to “flex their political muscles,” as a reporter for Washington, D.C.’s The Hill newspaper put it. For example, in 2014, Voces Verdes was part of a bipartisan, 28-organization coalition of Latino groups publicly backing the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. regulations, which are designed to avert water pollution

Issuing position statements, along with bilingual press releases that target both English and Spanish news outlets, is also a key strategy. In March of this year, Voces Verdes endorsed and promoted the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda’s 2016 Hispanic Public Policy Agenda (which has an extensive section on health and health care, along with a platform for climate action).

Knowledge is power, and this past October, Voces Verdes teamed up with the Natural Resources Defense Council to produce its own report, Nuestro Futuro: Climate Change and U.S. Latinos. Published in both Spanish and English, it combines the latest demographic data, public opinion research, and climate and health science to illustrate the unique dangers of climate change to U.S. Latinos where they live and work and shows how Latino advocacy can foster healthier lives and greater prosperity. This report – like ecoAmerica’s – can serve as an educational tool among the community and in outreach to government and NGOs.  Climate and health leaders may find it a useful complement to the Let’s Talk Climate report and ecoAmerica’s 15 Steps guidelines in tailoring their own outreach and organizing efforts.

All of these approaches are replicable wherever you may practice – and can and should be scaled locally. You may wish to partner with a local chapter or affiliate of one of these national Latino groups:

Voces Verdes


National Council of La Raza


Mi Familia Vota (in AZ, CA, CO, FL, NV, and TX only)







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