In California, climate change is a personal issue. We seem to be experiencing its earliest effects much more dramatically than the rest of the country.
But Latinos are truly on the front lines. Construction, farming, manufacturing all draw heavily on Latino workers, and they are at greater risk when they must work in extreme weather conditions. Many of these workers develop health issues.
In the context of changing climate, this pronounced inequality in healthcare has wrought terrible consequences on Latino families as well. Hispanic children suffer from asthma at similar rates as non-Hispanics, but they are 70% more likely to be admitted to the hospital and twice as likely to die from asthma.
And, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Hispanics have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group in the country.
We at the Community Resource Project, one of California’s largest community-based organizations helping those who do not have a voice in the energy debate, constantly look to find ways to incorporate energy efficiency into our programs.
These hard-to-reach individuals often are hardest hit by the smallest change in their economic situation, so guiding them to simple ways they can save energy and potentially money is a priority.
Fortunately, Latinos in California are uniquely positioned to make a difference.
Hispanics lead in small-business creation in California. Business owners can make simple choices to help improve energy efficiency.
They can commit to choosing energy-efficient vendors for their supply chain, or they can invest in energy-efficient upgrades to their offices and retail spaces, such as programmable thermostats and LED lighting.
Latino-owned businesses are also focusing their attention on energy education. Educating Hispanics on the types of jobs and contracts focused on clean energy or the environment will create a workforce to meet the needs for their future.
If Hispanic business owners establish a culture that holds each other accountable, all those little things can add up to big change.
Hispanic communities also have higher concentrations of multifamily and multigenerational homes, which provides more opportunities to work together, educate one another, and share the benefits of smart energy use.
Latinos can work with their neighbors to weatherize common areas, plan for optimal energy usage by sharing work and school schedules, and applying for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), if eligible. Even the little things count, like remembering to flip the light switch when everyone has left a room.
Allowing climate change to continue unabated is unacceptable for Latinos. All Californians, but especially Hispanics, can help in reaching our shared goals by looking for ways to improve their own energy usage.
Luis H. Sanchez is chief executive officer and president of the Community Resource Project in Sacramento, an Energy Upgrade California community partner, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.