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Biden’s missed moment on climate change and the Latino community

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on February 07, 2023 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on February 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. The speech marks Biden’s first address to the new Republican-controlled House. Seated behind President Biden are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Last night’s State of the Union was many things: a recap on the Biden administration’s legislative achievements including the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, a victory lap of sorts after Democrats’ better-than-expected midterms and most definitely the unofficial kickoff of President Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign. 

Among the many things that came up in yesterday evening’s speech, President Biden did not sufficiently address the threat of climate change. Last night was a missed opportunity to highlight how members of the Latino community are disproportionately impacted by the current and future dangers of climate change. 

According to a September 2021 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, members of Hispanic and Latino communities are more likely to live in areas with the highest increases in childhood asthma diagnoses as a result of climate-driven changes. As the world continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and many are living with the effects of long-COVID, it would be highly irresponsible to turn a blind eye to this growing pulmonary public health crisis in the Latino community. 

Furthermore, the report states that members of the Hispanic and Latino communities are more likely to live in areas where extreme temperatures are causing the highest rates of labor hour losses for weather-exposed workers and more likely to live in areas where high-tide flooding is causing the highest increases in associated traffic delays. These realities will ultimately result in long-term economic losses for members of these communities, further exacerbating current wealth inequalities and reducing access to economic opportunities. 

At the moment, the U.S. unemployment rate as a whole is at 3.4 percent, while for the Hispanic and Latino communities, it is at 4.5 percent. The long-term effects of climate change will only worsen such disparities. 

Thankfully, regardless of what was said during the State of the Union, members of the Latino community are not waiting around for Washington to get its act together. Community activists have long been active in response to a variety of challenges including in fighting for assistance in the wake of Hurricane Harvey — which one study shows hit the Latino community hardest — and in looking to build a more stable and reliable electrical grid in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

This activism in the Latino community is unsurprising, not only because of the disproportionate threat it faces from climate change, but because of how acutely aware the community is of this challenge. According to an Axios-Ipsos Latino poll in partnership with Noticias Telemundo ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, climate change was one of Latino voters’ leading concerns. Per the early October poll, it was the fourth-biggest issue for Latino voters, with 25 percent saying it was one of the most worrying issues. 

In the same poll, 38 percent said Democrats were good on climate and energy issues while only 10 percent said the same of Republicans. Perhaps most troublingly for the closely divided Congress; about 24 percent believed that neither party is good on these issues. 

Ultimately, the Latino community could use Washington’s help in tackling these issues, and President Biden did not take advantage of the unique opportunity he had last night to show leadership by making it clear to Congress that this is a priority for him and his administration. Members of the Latino community deserve to have their concerns not only heard but addressed. 

J.P. Carroll is a senior fellow for national security and inclusive governance at the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy. He is also the former deputy director of Hispanic media at the Republican National Committee. 

Tags Biden Effects of climate change Hurricane Harvey Joe Biden Latino communities Politics of the United States State of the Union Wealth inequality in the United States

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