The Climate Heritage of Hispanics

By Thais Lopez Vogel

September marks National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. From the 15th of this month through October 15th, the country celebrates and recognizes the contributions that Americans with roots in Mexico, Central America, South America, Spain, and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean have made to U.S. society and culture.

According to the Census Bureau, we are 63.7 million people or 19.1% of the total population, making us the nation’s largest ethnic minority.

However, it is increasingly evident that the U.S. Hispanic population bears a legacy that is not their responsibility. This legacy has resulted in consequences they are suffering from, which are making their lives increasingly difficult – specifically, their vulnerability to climate change.

We are not only referring to the impact that extreme weather has had on them in their home nations but also to the impact they are experiencing today, here in their new country.

If we look into the reasons why Hispanics migrate from their countries of origin, we discover that many of them are forced to do so by weather events, from droughts and rising temperatures that cause crop failures to floods and hurricanes.

A United Nations report states that climate-related events and their impacts claimed more than 312,000 lives in Latin America and the Caribbean and affected more than 277 million people between 1998 and 2020.

The adverse and traumatic conditions in which this migration occurs place immigrants at a severe disadvantage when it comes to succeeding in their new country. Licensed Professional Counselor Alicia Sewald expanded on the topic in our Climate Correction podcast. You can listen to the English episode here and the Spanish episode here.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Hispanic and Latino individuals are 43% more likely to live in areas with the highest labor hour losses due to increases in high-temperature days.

They add that Hispanic and Latino individuals are also 50% more likely to live in coastal areas with the highest increases in traffic delays from high-tide flooding.

As reported by Moms Clean Air Force, 50% of Hispanics in the United States live in 4 states already suffering the negative effects associated with climate change: California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

The large number of Latino outdoor workers are primarily in construction and agriculture. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, 92% of California farmworkers are Latinos.

All outdoor workers are highly vulnerable to extreme heat and climate-related health disturbances, including heat strokes, fainting, sunburn, and the exacerbation of conditions such as hypertension.

Action on climate change is not only urgent, but it must also consider that not all communities are affected equally, and Hispanics are among the most impacted.

This National Hispanic Heritage Month should focus on solutions specifically targeted to them. We need to work on informing and engaging these communities. In addition, we must demand effective action from our elected officials to alleviate the burden of the consequences this population has to face.

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