Time for a green-Latino electoral alliance
© Getty Images

Today launches a national campaign by environmental and religious groups to activate Hispanic support for climate change policies. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Clean Power Plan initiative — projected to cut emissions from power plants, one of the primary sources of carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030 — is the unexpected centerpiece of what promises to be a hard-fought battle for Latino voters in 2016.

Actors on the American political stage make a grave mistake when they think Latinos are principally, or only, interested in immigration. This may seem like a logical conclusion considering that sweeping majorities of Latinos, whether Democrats, Republicans or independents, think that immigration reform with a path toward citizenship is a very high national priority.

But perhaps, surprisingly, Americans of Latino descent are more concerned about the quality of our air, water and the alarming effects of climate change already impacting our country, than the average American.

As reported by The New York Times:

[Fifty-four] percent [of American Latinos] rated global warming as extremely or very important to them personally, compared with 37 percent of whites. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanics said they would be hurt personally to a significant degree if nothing was done to reduce global warming, compared with half of whites.

And 63 percent of Hispanics said the federal government should act broadly to address global warming, compared with 49 percent of whites.

This Latino concern with climate change reflects not just a greater acceptance of the climate change scientific evidence than the general population; it's also a very practical focus on health. Latino kids are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Hispanic white kids.


Latinos and other minority communities are disproportionately impacted by air pollution. About 50 percent of American Latino families live in areas with high pollution indexes, creating at least an inferred link between pollution and the disproportionate ravages of asthma and other diseases among Hispanics.

As the 2016 cycle revs up, it's important to understand that several obvious issues — economy, education, healthcare and immigration — will condition Latino support for any candidate, but also that climate change will be a likely sleeper issue in this cycle.

The immutable laws of demographics have made it certain that Latinos will play a kingmaker role in the 2016 election. As GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio signals opposition to Biden Cabinet picks Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE's (R-Fla.) campaign has calculated, a Republican candidate must reach at least 40 percent of the Latino vote in order to win the presidency. This was, approximately, the rate of Latino support for a GOP candidate last seen in 2004, when President George W. Bush won a tight reelection by appealing to Latinos with an ironclad promise to enact immigration reform in his second term.

It seem highly implausible that today's Republican Party is any more pro-immigration reform than when GOP senators blew up President Bush's immigration reform in 2007. Or more recently, when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) blocked in the House the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill.

In fact, in a recent CNN poll of Republican voters, a big majority favored mass deportations (i.e., 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" stratagem.) Today's candidates for the GOP nomination have, so far, also taken an antagonistic position against immigration reform, and in some cases, such as Gov. Scott Walker's (R-Wis.), the very idea of immigration as an engine of economic growth.

While the 2016 GOP field grapples with several high-profile climate change deniers who reinforce the GOP's image as the anti-science party, it's estimated that some 50,000 American Latinos celebrate their 18th birthday every month. Although voting rates for this particular group of young people are still painfully low, it's not hard to imagine a focused political campaign that taps into Latinos' existing climate change concerns to activate younger Latinos — a powerhouse of unrealized electoral power with a clear stake in the future — who may only now be focusing on the big issues impacting America's future.

And here's the opening for green groups focused on electing political leaders who will fight climate change, including supporting the Clean Power Plan initiative. The incorporation of significant numbers of Latino voters into a climate change action voting bloc would transform the national conversation — and electoral outcomes as well.

The real question is whether the green community grasps the historic electoral and policy opportunities of such an alliance — and invests appropriately to counter the avalanche of climate change denial propaganda that is about to be unleashed on Latino voters across the country.

Espuelas, a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a political analyst and contributor to The Hill, CBS News, NPR News, FoxNews Latino and other media. Contact him at contact@espuelas.com and via Twitter @EspuelasVox.