It's imprinted in our DNA. Latinos love the outdoors, every mountain, every tree, every river, and lake. Our “Madre tierra” connects us with our past, present and future. This week we commemorate the 8th year celebrating Latino Conservation Week, a moment to stop and encourage our community to enjoy nature. But, while Latino outdoor participation has grown over the years, the impact of climate change is increasingly limiting our ability to enjoy the outdoors, a reality that Latinos want to change.
Latinos had the highest outdoor participation rate growth, increasing about 6 percent annually for the past three years. In 2020, Latinos reported a participation rate of 48 percent — more than doubling their 2007 participation rate — and 30 percent also indicated outdoor recreation as one of their favorite things to do.
Although Latino outdoor participation continues to be lower in comparison with other ethnic groups, the numbers bring hope about what the future can entail, while our population keeps growing, and rediscovering nature in the United States. Unfortunately climate change is dangerously paddling against this current.
In 2019, wildfires burned 3.1 million acres on federal land, while 2020 saw a major increase, with 7.1 million acres burned. Additionally, 70 percent of the nationwide acreage burned by wildfires last year was on federal lands. These wildfires are making visits to state parks and National Parks, like Great Basin and Death Valley, impossible for months each year.
Last June, Utah’s Zion National Park received more than an inch of rain in an hour, which unleashed flash floods and mudslides, forcing authorities to close the park and endangering visitors and locals alike. The National Park Service states that climate change is already affecting coastal parks, which may experience stronger storms and flooding, while inland parks may see more frequent downpours and droughts.
Latinos understand the severity of the problem and are eager to see solutions coming from Congress that address the climate crisis, reduce pollution and promote environmental justice, while creating millions of jobs. More than 77 percent of Latinos believe that the global climate is currently changing. Eighty five percent of Latinos believe that climate change is a problem for Americans today, and 80 percent of Latinos believe that the country should make significant investments in clean energy.
Currently, several Latino young leaders are making their voices heard in the climate movement, but they can't do this alone. Latinos all over the United States, from all ages and occupations, we need to translate our preferences into a common voice. One that unifies us in the common cause to protect our Madre Tierra, one that shows every legislator how much we really care, and how urgent it is for them to act on climate action that reduces pollution, while creating clean energy jobs. That is the only road possible to turn the wheel on climate, the only road for us to honor, treasure, preserve and restore our precious Madre Tierra. The time is now. ¿Qué estamos esperando?
Maite Arce is executive director of Hispanic Access Foundation, Felipe Benitez is executive director of Corazon Latino, Antonieta Cadiz is director for Latino Media Climate Power.