Engaging Oregon’s Hispanic Community for Climate Action

Oregon Environmental Council and its partners have been working to broaden Oregon’s climate movement – looking beyond our usual allies to impacted communities and overlooked allies. In order for us to lead on climate, the movement must be broad, encompass all communities and be a place where all Oregonians feel they have a voice.

While OEC has often worked to create culturally competent materials that resonate with different groups, as a part of our climate push, we are making a renewed effort to meet people where they are – that is to say, know what issues matter most to them and provide climate education based on their community’s existing priorities. To listen, and not tell.

A common misconception about climate change is that it’s not as important as other key issues that affect communities of color. But climate impacts are already affecting communities across the state, and by shining a light on the link between climate and what matters to each of our Oregon communities, we can open hearts and minds to the urgent need for climate action.

As part of this work, OEC has recently started on an initiative to extend outreach to Oregon’s Hispanic community. At just over 17 percent of Oregon’s population (according to U.S. census data), Hispanics represent Oregon’s fastest growing minority group. Recent studies also show that climate is a big issue for Hispanics. A poll released earlier this year by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future, found that Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to view global warming as a problem that affects them personally. It also found that they are more likely to support policies aimed at curbing climate pollution. Among the poll’s Hispanic respondents, 54 percent rated climate change as “extremely or very important” to them personally and 67 percent of Hispanics said they would be hurt personally to a significant degree if nothing was done to reduce climate change.

And this isn’t the only poll with such findings. A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of Hispanics agreed that the earth had been warming, with 59 percent attributing that warming to human activity. (By comparison, 62 percent of whites agreed that the earth had been warming; 41 percent attributed that to human activity.) In most polls, Hispanics typically rate immigration, education and employment among the top policy issues they care about, however these recent polls illustrate that Hispanics also care intensely about environmental issues.

Why might that be? Perhaps it’s because climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color and low-income communities. According to the National Hispanic Medical Association, about half of the nation’s Hispanic population lives in regions that often violate clean air rules; Hispanics are three times more likely to die from asthma than other racial or ethnic groups. Poor Hispanics are most at risk; a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed that nearly one in four low-income Hispanic or Puerto-Rican children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with asthma, compared to about one in 13 middle-class or wealthy white children. Additionally, a majority (55%) of the nation’s estimated 35.4 million Hispanic adults identify as Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 National Survey of Latinos and Religion. This may further explain, following Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, why climate change is considered to be a high priority issue among Hispanics.

The truth is, we at OEC still have a lot to learn on why Hispanics care about climate change. With our newly designed Spanish-language climate presentations, we’re working to get out into the community to provide resources on climate change and its local impacts, while also facilitating thoughtful discussions – listening to communities across Oregon about why they care and what will motivate them to act. From presentations at Catholic churches, to community centers and more, we’re eager to engage with Oregon’s Hispanic community on this work. While we have some great resources, we believe its a fluid process that must be informed by the community – knowing their priorities, what moves them and what they care about.

Our first project with the Hispanic community this year consisted of a conversation with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Oregon Interfaith Power & Light. In collaboration with two Honduran climate activists contracted by EMO, including a civil engineer who immigrated to Oregon when the climate impacts in her country that made it hard for her to feel safe there, we created a “Climate Change 101” presentation focusing on what climate change is, how it impacts Oregon, and opening a dialogue about why we care about these impacts. We also noted how climate change impacts Mesoamerica, and the migration patterns and disruption this has brought to many families. We’ve been working, in collaboration with EMO, to present this information to small groups locally, with a focus on East County and other highly impacted communities. Our goal is to hold briefings with 20 groups and communities mostly in the Portland area, while integrating the unique perspectives Hispanics have on climate change impacts and climate change solutions into our work. Oregon Environmental Council is also working with other partners, such as Latino Network and Coalition of Communities of Color further climate education with Oregon’s Hispanic community.

We’re at a pivotal moment in time: we see the impacts of climate change happening all around us, but we still have a short window where we can do something about it. The changes we make (or don’t make) will inform the world our children, and their children, live in. Oregon Environmental Council is working diligently to build Oregon’s climate movement movement, but we can’t do it without you. If we can ever be of service to your organization by collaborating on a climate presentation – in English or Spanish – please don’t hesitate to reach out. We have staff available who can present in both languages. We’re eager to continue this great work, and you interest and enthusiasm are what make it all possible!

– Devon Downeysmith, Climate Communications & Outreach Manager

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