If Republicans want to stop being known as the White Man’s Party, as they professed in their “Growth and Opportunity” report a year ago, they’ve now got one more way to do it: Start taking climate change seriously.
A new poll finds that over 90 percent of Latinos nationally want government action on global warming. Some 86 percent want carbon pollution limits on power plants. And given the inaction from Congress, nearly 80 percent say they approve of President Obama taking action alone on climate change.
The concerns crossed over income and party lines: 86 percent of high salary earners want action; 54 percent of Latino Republicans favored Obama taking charge. In other words, it’s not only Latinos in the barrios living next to waste plants who demand action.
“This is a clear message for public officials who want support from Latinos,” said Matt Barreto, a political scientist at the public opinion firm Latino Decisions, which administered the poll for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Protecting the environment is a top priority. If you want their support, taking action on climate change is an important place to start.”
Taking action means not only cutting pollution, but also making sure that Latinos and communities of color that have historically received unequal protection from natural disasters have suitable places to live. When asked about what steps were necessary for the government to fight climate change, 94 percent of the respondents favored building more efficient homes and 91 percent supported “investing and preparing our communities for future weather events like storms, floods, or hurricanes.”
The GOP has been opening “Hispanic outreach” offices in key states, but I think they have a serious conundrum here. Taking Latino voters seriously is going to mean more than just staging some events and constructing more ethnically sensitive messaging. It’s also going to mean reversing course on some key policy principles, including stopping their attacks on the climate action plans of Obama and the EPA, and also taking racial discrimination seriously. Without those two, I don’t see how any political party could really connect to Latinos or any people of color for that matter.
“Politicians from both parties need to start listening to what their constituents actually care about, particularly those in the Latino community,” says Refugio Mata, the L.A.-based environmental activist and campaign manager for the Latino political advocacy group Presente.org. “And if they don’t, there’s going to be consequences.”
Politicians tend to get glued to just immigration matters when engaging Latinos but, “We don’t care about just one issue,” said Mata. “We care about all the issues that impact our family members, and our family members too often are disproportionately impacted by the health effects that come from living with dirty air and water when there should have been something done about this a long time ago.”
And it’s not only pollution over their own communities that Latinos are concerned about. According another recent report from Barreto, Latino Americans on the West Coast also strongly oppose exporting coal to Asia. There’s a strong sense from all of these reports that Latinos truly value humanity in its fullness and our connections across the globe — children’s health will suffer whether the pollution is in California or China, and that’s unacceptable.
Thus far, Republicans have screwed up just about every attempt to reach beyond their old white guy demographic. Given their distaste for anything that smells like science, it’s hard to imagine this issue being any different. But they can’t say they weren’t warned.