Faithful Latino Voters Empower Legislative Climate Leaders

Chispa, a League of Conservation Voters program, recently tallied the final score on climate voting records for U.S. senators and house representatives. The report was disheartening, with the national average of positive congressional climate votes locked at 41% (senate) and 45% (house), a historic low. There was, however, a glimmer of hope that toppled the partisan stronghold among Latino legislators and those representing areas “where Latinos are concentrated.”

According to the report, congressional leaders that represent large fractions of Latino voters “tend to be strong champions” for the climate. Highly concentrated Latino states like Arizona, California, Nevada and New Mexico are challenging legislative gridlock with politicians who represent a growing concern for the climate among Latinos, a move that some experts suggest could have a major impact on the November elections. With strong leadership and a new Latino voter turning eighteen every thirty seconds, this possibility is growing stronger every day.

According to a report from the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economic Polling Initiative, “nearly 80 percent of Hispanics consider global warming to be a somewhat serious or a very serious problem, up almost 7 percent from a year ago,” and these numbers are expected to rise as we approach the 2016 elections. Better yet, 54 percent of Latinos polled consider climate change to be a “deciding factor” in casting their votes this November.

Latinos account for 17.3 percent of the U.S. population, placing the total number just over 55 million. Apart from this growing voter base being disproportionately impacted by climate change through droughts, floods, and other climate-related disasters, they are also strongly influenced by their faith. A Florida Atlantic University poll found that 60 percent of Latino respondents (and 66 percent of Latinos between the ages of 18 and 34) claimed to be guided by the Catholic church's position on climate change.

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication substantiates and deepens this claim, correlating climate awareness growth among Latinos with the release of Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si. But faithful Latinos aren’t restricted to Catholic influence with a growing number of Protestant Latinos voters. Pew Research indicates that 22 percent of American Latinos identify as Protestant, the vast majority of which (16 percent) align with Evangelical traditions.

In July, National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) founder and Blessed Tomorrow leader Rev. Gabriel Salguero met with a myriad of Latino leaders at ecoAmerica’s inaugural National Latino Climate Leadership Forum to discuss communication strategies and tactics for influencing Latino voters. Leaders sought to broaden and accelerate Latino climate leadership on climate solutions by sharing information, exchanging ideas and best practices, and planning to build capacity for effective action. Joined by powerful leaders such as Mar Muñoz Visoso, Executive Director, Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church; José Calderón, President, Hispanic Federation; and Brent Wilkes, National Executive Director, League of United Latin American Citizens, Salguero worked to identify best practices for cultivating climate awareness in Evangelical Latino communities and the broader Protestant base.

Changing public opinion on climate change is important, but only so far as its ability to transform leadership and those that determine national, state and local led action. As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse explains, the systemic issue of climate denial is still pervasive among legislative officials. A resolution he recently put forth, aims to remedy widespread climate misinformation in Congress by addressing organizations who knowingly disseminate false climate information, likening their tactics to fraudulent campaigns first propagated by the tobacco industry. Tactics which jeopardized American health through misinformation strategies that peppered doubt onto an issue that had already reached scientific consensus. According to Whitehouse, many legislators still garner financial support from climate denial organizations such as The Koch Brothers and The Heartland Institute.

The upcoming presidential and congressional elections are critical in pursuing climate solutions. Over four-hundred seats are up for election on November 8th, all of which hold great power in determining U.S. advancements on clean energy, carbon taxing, and allowances for the Green Climate Fund. When President Obama proposed a $750 million contribution to the Green Climate Fund earlier this year, it was stopped by a Congregational base with a history of voting against climate initiatives. Had there been strong climate advocacy within the legislative branch, the measure likely would have passed. Instead, it was narrowed down to $500 million, only a small portion of the $3 billion pledged during the Paris Agreement in 2015.

What score did senators and representatives in your area get from Chispa? Find out here.

Ryan Smith is a writer at Blessed Tomorrow. He received his master's degree in Religious Studies with an emphasis on faith and climate change from the University of California, Riverside. Click here to email Ryan.

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