By Minerva Perez
California Health Report
Latino voters value conservation – so much so that protecting the environment is just as important as improving the economy to this fast growing section of the electorate, a recent survey found.
The California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund released the results on Oct. 4 of a statewide poll that gauged the environmental and economic values of likely Latino voters and found that 90 percent agree that the state can “protect the environment and create jobs at the same time.”
“Latinos statewide, up and down, care about a wide range of issues affecting the environment specifically saying that conservation is a core Latino value,” Ben Tulchin, president of Tulchin Research, which conducted the survey, at the Oct. 10th “Salud, Familia, Comunidad: California Latino Voters and our Air, Land and Water” forum in Fresno.
Tulchin Research telephoned the landlines and cell phones of 500 likely Latino voters and interviewed them in both English and Spanish from Sept. 5-13.
Their key findings include that Latinos consider toxic and water pollution highly concerning, with 85 percent and 80 percent saying it is a serious problem respectively. Nearly two-thirds of also Latinos believe “conserving fish and wildlife habitats is a serious concern.”
Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, were popular among Latinos too, with 91 percent in support of them, 68 percent strongly. On the other end of the spectrum Latinos have a far lower support for polluting energy sources such as coal and many – 51 percent – oppose drilling off the California coast.
The heart of the survey found that 66 percent of Latinos consider themselves “conservationists” with nearly three out of 10 strongly self-identifying as such.
The results didn’t surprise the panel of community organizers and audience members at the Fresno forum who agreed that conservation is something Latinos have always practiced.
“When I think of conservation, I think of ‘apaga la luz’ [turn off the lights] ‘apaga la agua’ [turn off the water] how many of you heard that growing up?” asked Rey Leon, founder and executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement & Policy Project.
“Conservation for us is sometimes tied to our (own household economy),” he said.
The report supports Leon’s own experiences, as nearly all Latinos – 91 percent – surveyed support energy conservation according the report.
Tulchin said that Latinos preferred being called “conservationist” as opposed to “environmentalists” his own belief is that environmentalist is a loaded word that can alienate people.
Walter Ramirez from California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation remembers when he told his parents that he works with mediambintalistas (environmentalists), thoughts of bombing buildings come their minds. “It sounds extreme, and that is why we have to frame it in a social justice way,” he said.
Maricela Mares-Alatorre, a community organizer for Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice who is based in Kettleman City, remembers having to recycle aluminum cans to get enough money for Fourth of July fireworks one year when she was young. She fondly and proudly states that she was an environmentalist at a very young age.
“We have to get past the point to where it’s not a bad word,” she said.
Statewide, 25 percent of Latinos have at least someone in their immediate family who suffers from asthma and “pollution threatening your family’s health and well being” rate as the top environmental concern.
“A health-oriented message is key here in the Central Valley,” Tulchin said to the Fresno audience.
“The reason we are so concerned about the environment is because of the health of our family,” said Rosenda Mataka, co-founder of the Grayson Neighborhood Council. “If it’s killing your kids you are going to care.”
The survey also found that Latinos are more likely to pay for a greener California. When asked if getting more electricity from clean renewable sources caused an increase in monthly electric bills would they continue to favor the law (passed last year requiring one third of the state’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2020) 75 percent said yes while 82 percent would support it if it reduced pollution and improved public health.
“Going to them and saying ‘you pay the $10 now so you don’t have to pay the $20 for a co-pay at the doctor.’” Mataka used as an example to stress the importance of paying for upfront to avoid costs later.
“You are going to get something out that $20 dollars a month. We have to know that we (Latinos) are getting something in return.”
While Latinos care deeply about conservation and how the environment impacts health it doesn’t always translate to voters at the polls
There are approximately 14 million Latinos who reside in California. They make up 38 percent of the population and 32 of the adult population but only 16 percent of them are likely to vote a sharp contrast between non-Hispanic whites who make up 46 percent of the adult population but make up the 66 percent of likely voters according to a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California.
What does get many Latinos to vote, especially older ones, is the sense of their civic responsibility according to the study. Mares-Alatorre said that from her experience “there is nothing more powerful than the power of comadres” to filter information and encourage voting
A sentiment echoed by the survey results which found that 83 percent of Latinos view family members as the most trusted source of information on environmental issues.
“So talking to your neighbors, talking to your friends is very important,” Tulchin said.