Slowly but surely, environmental and conservation advocates are realizing that the answer to their slipping influence (declining due to demographic reasons -- the average enviro-voter is older and whiter than America by far) may be the burgeoning Latino community.
According to a recent Nielsen global survey, "nearly nine out of 10 Latin Americans say that the use of raw materials harmful to the environment influences where they shop and what they buy." Eighty percent think that organic products are environmentally-friendly. And only 27 percent of Latin Americans said they'd buy products that were less environmentally friendly just to save money. All of these numbers are much higher than those for all North Americans, and usually significantly higher than any other population in the world.
These sentiments seem to translate to U.S. Latino attitudes at the ballot box. (Remember: nearly 50 percent of U.S. Latinos are foreign-born, including 35+ percent of U.S. Latino voters.)
For example, in Nov. 2006, massive Latino turnout in California voted 84 percent in favor of the largest water/park bond in US history (Proposition 84 -- $6 billion). The stellar Latino turnout carried the measure to victory even though it lost the white vote.
Exit polling in California's 2010 general election showed that areas with high percentages of Latinos voted overwhelmingly against Proposition 23, which would have suspended air pollution control laws until unemployment drops below 5.5 percent. In East Los Angeles, where Latinos comprise 97 percent of the population, Prop. 23 was defeated by a margin of more than 3 to 1.
These sentiments are not just limited to California Latinos. According to a 2010 poll conducted by the Latino Coalition on Climate Change, Latino voters in Florida, Colorado and Nevada ( swing states!) are more likely to vote for candidates who support strong action to protect the environment, increase the use of renewable energy and deal with the climate crisis.
These sentiments match with successful grassroots advocacy campaigns by groups like the Latino Voters League and the William C. Velasquez Institute in Texas during the 2009 push for the ill-fated climate change bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Though the bill stalled in the Senate, activists successfully turned Latino congresspeople to favorable votes even though the Texas Energy lobby massively pressured them to oppose.
All of this suggests that Latinos will become a reliable green vote and voice in elections and on policy matters going forward.
Since the presidential election season is in full-swing, so are voter education and registration campaigns. And every interest group is pouring money into registering voters that they think will support their cause. So to environmentalists, we say: Latinos are a good bet. Invest in the community as Earth Day Network and others have done.
In the long term, we all know that the environmental movement needs to invest more heavily in Latino-focused outreach and initiatives and bring Latinos into the conversation about the green economy, climate change and other environmental issues. The time to start is now -- with the environmental movement putting their money where their mouth is.