By Maite Arce for Capitol Weekly
Recently, as part of the inaugural Latino Advocacy Week, I had the privilege to virtually witness Latino advocates from all around California share inspiring stories, from being the first in their family to run for office, to fighting against oil and gas drilling near their homes.
It was rewarding to hear passionate leaders discuss the causes they care about, including the environment and climate change.
Latinos have long-been committed to protecting public lands and rivers. Yet, California Latinos are almost twice as likely to live somewhere that is “nature deprived” than white communities, meaning there are far fewer parks, streams, beaches, and other natural places nearby.
Limited access to the outdoors means Latinos have fewer places to hike, swim, and enjoy nature with family. It also means that our communities are more likely to face environmental hazards like pollution, extreme heat, and flooding. This impacts our health and means we’re more vulnerable to climate change.
COVID-19 has further exacerbated these inequities, and our communities are reeling from the ongoing health and economic crises brought on by the pandemic.
As President Biden and California officials take climate action, it’s critical that our leaders increase access to public lands, rivers, and beaches for Latinos.
We know that access to green and blue spaces improves mental and physical health—particularly during the pandemic, when getting outdoors is the safest way to connect with loved ones. We also know that conservation helps mitigate climate change and can aid economic recovery. And now, we have new data from California Latino voters that emphasizes the urgency of these policy opportunities.
A just-released poll shows that Latino voters overwhelmingly support increased conservation measures and strong climate action. When asked to rank different conservation policies, Latino voters gave the highest scores to policies that would create new national parks and other public lands protections. Further, nine in 10 Latinos surveyed want more investments in environmental protections, even in the midst of the pandemic.
Given that California’s outdoor recreation economy generated $57.4 billion in 2019, it’s clear that investing in our public lands and waters benefits economic recovery alongside access to the outdoors and climate resilience.
The results also confirm broad support from the California Latino community for conservation and climate policies advanced by the Biden Administration. Specifically, we see robust endorsement for President Biden’s commitment to protecting at least 30% of our lands and waters by 2030, and support for the Administration’s current pause of new oil and gas leases on federal lands. Eighty-two percent of Latinos want to stop or strictly limit oil and gas development on public lands.
Fortunately our leaders are already pushing to improve access to the outdoors and fight climate change. The Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives, would protect over 1 million acres of public lands and over 500 miles of rivers throughout our state. This includes special places in Northwest California, along the Central Coast, and in Los Angeles’ San Gabriel Mountains and Rim of the Valley Corridor. The bill is now in the Senate’s hands.
Latinos have long advocated for more ways to spend time in nature with loved ones. The increasing crises we face from climate change and the pandemic reveal that we must act quickly to protect more of our public lands and rivers. Let’s urge our elected officials to champion conservation, because our health and the future of our planet is at stake.