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A Wise Lesson to Learn From Latino Voters

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When it comes to knowledge about the health of our communities and the environment, we Latinos are way ahead of the curve.

And this knowledge does not come from a privileged position. Quite the opposite. We know these issues well because we Latinos suffer the consequences of pollution and environmental degradation in a disproportionate way.

A recent survey sponsored by the Sierra Club and NCLR (National Council of La Raza) reveals the intimate relationship between the toxic bombardment our communities suffer on a daily basis, their strong believe in climate change and their hope for a future of clean energy economy as the solution to these critical problems.

The poll, conducted among more than 1,300 registered Latino voters, finds that an overwhelming percentage (83 percent) of Latinos believe that fossil fuels are a thing of the past, a devastating piece of news for both Big Oil and Big Coal.

Why? Pollution from fossil fuel industries has a profound impact on our community. A whopping 43 percent of respondents say they live dangerously close to a toxic site, such as a refinery, coal-burning plant, incinerator or major freeway. It's no wonder the main environmental worry for 61 percent of Latino voters the pollution of our water and air.

All of this pollution translates into devastating consequences for the health of our communities. Almost half of respondents (47 percent) say someone in their immediate families suffers from asthma and 41 percent from cancer. To no one's surprise, 72 percent of Latino voters support environmental protections from polluters.

This clear understanding of environmental degradation manifests itself in their opinions about climate disruption. Almost eight in 10 of Latino voters (77 percent) believe climate change is taking place, and 15 percent of them believe it will happen in the future. In other words, almost unanimously, we Latinos see climate disruption not as an issue to be debated but as a reality to be confronted.

In July, a poll by the Washington Post revealed that, for the first time since this question was first asked in any survey, the general public does not think climate disruption is their main environmental concern.

Among Latino voters, on the other hand, there exists a both personal and financial commitment to fight climate change. Almost nine in ten (87 percent) would rather work in the clean energy industry, such as solar or wind, than in the fossil fuel industry. A similar majority (86 percent) supports the federal government investing in clean energy, whereas just 11 percent favor investments in dirty energy.

And most importantly, six in 10 Latino voters (58 percent) are willing to spend more on their electricity bills as long as their energy comes from clean energy sources.

The Latino community's respect for nature is rooted in profound religious values. According to the Club's survey, 92 percent of respondents agree that they have a moral responsibility "to take care of God's creation on this earth, the wilderness, the forests, the oceans, lakes and rivers." And seven out of ten Latino voters would support the president designating more public lands as national monuments.

The survey ratifies and underlines the results of previous polls revealing a strong compromise with the health of our communities and the future of our planet.

Latino voters are sending a clear message to our elected officials in Washington: We expect a profound transformation of the nation's energy policy. For us, what is at stake is nothing less than the health and future of 50 million people.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC

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