The grand postmodern hall in the “Order of the Architects of the Isle of France,” a stately building near the Gare de l'Est train station in Paris is for once abuzz with a language other than French. Paris has welcomed a gathering to celebrate US Latino and Latin American leadership on climate change, on the margins of COP21 in Paris.
Sipping wine and sharing notes on the wonderful “El Papa Francisco” (Pope Francis), and his leadership on climate change, are luminaries such as Felipe Calderon, former president of Mexico, NGO activists like Adrianna Quintero, Director of Partner Engagement for National Resources Defense Council and Director of Voces Verdes, and Kevin de Leon, President pro tempore of the California State Senate.
“Our mission is to amplify and broaden the voices that are weighing in for climate action,” says Quintero. “We all have a role to play, and we need to engage everyone—Latinos, African Americans, young, old, people of faith, students, etc... Whatever your background or your socio-economic status might be, you have an important role to play in this fight.”
Latinos are disproportionately affected by poor air quality and climate change, says Quintero. “Many Latinos work in agriculture, in construction or in landscaping, jobs that put them at greater risk for breathing poor-quality air, for suffering on hot days.” Apart from the impact on Latino jobs, climate change has become a moral issue for Catholic communities in Mexico and the U.S. concerned with protecting God's creation.
Solutions to these challenges can be as modest as planting trees in a largely concreted area, or as ambitious as using a portion of revenues from California’s cap-and-trade policies to help Latino communities purchase solar panels as State Senator de Leon described passionately.
A common theme de Leon found throughout his meetings in Paris is the need to democratize climate change policies, so that “not only one segment of our society has access. We can’t all afford Teslas.”
“The number one reason for absenteeism in our California school system is asthma,” says de Leon. “California is 40% Latino, and Latinos are among the most marginalized and vulnerable, right down to the criteria pollutants our children are breathing into their lungs.” De Leon continued, there are grounds for optimism, as evermore Latinos are taking action.
“We Latinos have a very interesting troika in regards to climate change,” he says. “We have Fabian Nunez, former speaker of the California State Assembly, who was a lead author of AB32 (California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006). We have Latino Pontiff, the Holy Sea, El Papa Francisco, from Argentina, who talks forcefully about the issue of climate change. No other pontiff has ever done this before, and I am the lead author for Senate Bill 350, which I think surpasses the Global Warming Solutions Act. So we have three Latinos taking action throughout the world when it comes to climate change. I think this is really important because Latinos are not just focused on environmental justice, but we are at the forefront of climate change as a whole.”
In addition to the 'troika' de Leon describes, there are Latino climate leaders at every level of society, says Quintero. “It’s important that we all believe in our ability to lead, that we carry that into our networks. That’s where the energy lies.”
She says we can “make leaders of our friends like our a local barber who speaks to hundreds of people who come through his door. We need to communicate and motivate people. We need to simplify issues to the point where we just know that it’s good for us, for our communities and the world..."
Latino leadership on climate will be the focus of an ecoAmerica summit in 2016, thanks to a recent grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. If Paris is any indication, there will be a deep well of talent from which to draw.
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