Earlier this summer, environmentalists and conservation organizations across the country celebrated Latino Conservation Week, honoring the hard work Latino communities have done to protect our public lands and waters.
Latinos, despite being a diaspora of individuals with roots in different countries and cultures, share an appreciation for nature and conservation. As Latinos in our country face an array of serious attacks on our communities, Latino Conservation Week was a chance for us to come together, enjoy the outdoors, and bring awareness to yet another critical issue facing our country: the damage from climate change.
It should come as no surprise then, that many Latinos are ready to act in the name of environmental conservation. According to a Yale study, more than 8 in 10 Latinos think global warming is occurring, 7 in 10 believe it is human-caused, and 3 out of every 4 consider themselves “very worried.” A majority are willing to take political action to stop climate change.
It is important for everyone to recognize what is at stake in Florida. Here, it is not just scientists that see the effects of global warming: business leaders, elected officials, and our neighbors down the street have a front row seat to what the rest of the country is just beginning to understand.
When I moved to Miami from Washington, D.C., I was in awe of the magnitude and majesty of the South Florida coastal ecosystem. It includes places like the historic Everglades National Park, as well as the Florida Reef, the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States and home to millions of species living among the coral.
Thanks to these natural wonders in our backyard, stopping climate change and conserving oceans are not a second thought but a top priority for Floridians.
Additionally, our coastlines aren’t just beautiful — they drive our economy.
In the United States, the ocean and coastal recreation economy is booming. A NOAA survey found that almost 49 million adults participate in ocean and coastal recreation and spend over $141 billion in ocean recreation-related goods and services. That spending supports more than 3.1 million jobs, $409 billion in business income, and $135 billion in household incomes.
But Florida’s 8,400 miles of coastlines are at risk from a warming climate. Scientists agree that increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, and deoxygenation will alter ocean ecosystems and diminish the benefits they provide, including protecting Florida’s coastal communities from sea-level rise and storm surge.
If we ignore the environmental and economic risk of climate change, we not only threaten fragile ecosystems, but the nearly 610,000 jobs and $37.4 billion in GDP that make up Florida’s clean coast economy.
Latino communities are especially attuned to these risks because in Florida we are on the frontlines of this battle. Our communities are harmed the most by storms and sea-level rise, our economic interests suffer the most after oil spills, and our families are vulnerable to displacement after natural disasters.
While our representatives in Congress have taken important steps like proposing to ban offshore drilling off our coast, we need elected leaders to do more.
Everyone from the Florida Legislature to our mayors to our federal representatives must support restoring coastal habitats, stopping offshore drilling, building resilient infrastructure, protecting marine sanctuaries, and managing fisheries.
Organizations such as The Cleo Institute are already taking action to protect Florida residents, ecosystems, and businesses from climate change, and our representatives must share the same sense of urgency.
I’m proud to have elected officials who recognize that the fight against climate change will require a wide range of actions. We need to use every tool available to protect our coasts, our communities, and our way of life. Our environment and our economy depend on it.
Ginette Magaña is the President of Talavera Strategies and a member of GreenLatinos living in South Florida. Ginette previously served as an aide to President Obama as the White House’s primary liaison to the Latino community.
“The Invading Sea” is a collaboration of four South Florida media organizations — the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and WLRN Public Media.