Guest commentary: Environmental solution includes Colorado Latinos | AspenTimes.com

Guest commentary: Environmental solution includes Colorado Latinos

Dulce Saenz
Guest Commentary

I am a first-generation immigrant from Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico, but I grew up in the northeastern plains of Weld County. We moved there when I was 2 years old. I lived on a lonely road, where the closest home to ours was at least 2 miles away. My first pet was a rooster, which perched on the back deck, and I have fond memories of riding the miniature pony in my backyard that my dad bought my two sisters and me.

Now I work in Denver organizing Latino communities around environmental issues as the organizing director at Protegete: Our Air, Our Health, a partnership between Conservation Colorado and the League of Conservation Voters. Despite the difference between these two worlds, today they are bonded over an imminent threat that affects us both — impacts to our clean air and the long-term threat of climate change.

Protegete, which means "protect yourself," works to harness the existing passion for protecting the environment that can be found in Latino communities and direct it toward meaningful policy outcomes. In doing so, the program fights to achieve justice for those who have been most severely impacted by environmental degradation.

Colorado's Latino population has the potential to be a real force for change in the state. It is the eighth-largest in the nation, with 21 percent of the state's population and 14 percent of the state's eligible voters. Despite this, Latinos do not always enjoy the political representation those numbers suggest. That is why Protegete's defining goal is to build a more powerful voice for Latino communities and leaders in the fight against climate change; we promote clean energy and a healthy future for all Colorado residents.

Conserving and being conscious of our resources are second nature to Latinos, and that knowledge informs the way we organize in the community. Reducing, reusing and recycling are cultural norm that have been embedded into our traditions, often due to the economic hardships we face. Latinos also already have a sense of a moral obligation to protect the planet for our children and grandchildren.

Not only are Colorado Latinos already aligned with environmental values, but they want to be part of the solution in addressing climate change. In fact, a 2014 survey by the Benenson Strategy Group showed that 83 percent of Latinos in Colorado support the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, and 76 percent want to increase the use of solar energy in our state. The polling also shows that all people, regardless of their income levels, are willing to pay more for clean energy.

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Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino white children; 2 out of 5 Latinos live within 30 miles of a power plant. At the same time, Latinos account for 42 percent of construction laborers and as many as 75 percent of agricultural fieldworkers in the United States.

It's important that we address climate change, which disproportionately threatens immigrant communities without the infrastructure, or the monetary means, to recover from severe weather events. It's vital that we clean our air so our families can continue to make memories outside without having to worry about getting sick from poor air quality. The health benefits and joys of playing outside in our backyards, like my sisters and I did with our rooster and pony, are only as good as the air around us and will endure only on a planet with a stable climate. This is why Protegete works to elevate the voices of Latinos in the fight against climate change by promoting clean air and a healthy future for all Coloradans.

Dulce Saenz will be speaking at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Limelight Hotel in Aspen.