Election Day is less than a week away. With so much on the line, folks are stressed and we could all benefit from taking a deep breath. But that is impossible right now in Colorado.
If you step outside and try to take a deep breath, the toxic smoky air is suffocating — a forceful reminder that the climate crisis is happening here and now. As record wildfires driven by climate change burn across our state, Coloradans are increasingly focused on the impacts of climate change. For the state’s Latino community the climate crisis is even direr and these impacts are radiating throughout other aspects of our lives.
The current wildfires are perhaps the most glaring sign of the climate crisis, but there are other serious environmental issues that aren’t so visible to far too many Coloradans. Environmental injustice means that toxic air and water pollution are often concentrated in certain communities, pushing these issues out of sight for those with enough privilege to shelter them from this harsh reality. Colorado’s Latinos know the reality of environmental injustice all too well. Some of the most polluted areas here in Colorado (and the country for that matter) are overwhelmingly Black, Latino, and indigenous — this isn’t a coincidence. Our current leaders claim to care about the environment while letting polluters poison these communities without consequence. And our communities are paying the price.
Living with higher levels of pollution doesn’t just affect one’s quality of life, it has serious long-term consequences. This legacy of environmental racism is connected to health disparities like elevated rates of asthma, which have resulted in Colorado’s Latino community being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Latinos make up 21% of the population in Colorado, yet they account for 44% of all COVID-19 cases in the state.
For our community, the climate crisis is already a matter of life and death. We have seen our family members get sick and even die, from pollution. We have seen how hard it is for neighborhood kids to stay inside when the air is too smoky. We have seen how the landscape in our beautiful state has been ravaged by drought and fire to the point where the flora won’t grow back like it once was.
Living so closely with the effects of climate change has ingrained in us a sense of urgency. We know that this crisis can not wait. And while we are very cognizant of the severity of the situation, we are also hopeful. When faced with a challenge, our community does not back down — we band together. And this is exactly what we are doing to fight climate change.
Here in Colorado, we know that we have the power to shape this election. There are nearly 670,000 eligible Latino voters in Colorado, making us a major untapped voting bloc that could swing a close election. This shift in political power has been years in the making, Latino voter turnout in Colorado presidential elections has increased by 50 percent since 2000.
Latinos in Colorado are eagerly showing up to vote and we’re mobilizing our neighbors because we know that climate destruction doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Our community has a sacred connection with the Earth and when politicians give a free pass to polluters and endanger our families, it’s an insult to our community, our culture and our ancestors.
We don’t have to settle for leaders who are environmentalists in name only. We have the power to demand leaders who will fight for us and our climate. If they won’t do that, they better start dusting off their resume and looking for a new job.
To accomplish this, we need Latinos and all Coloradans who care about our children’s futures to vote for the next seven generations during this election cycle.
So, join me, in voting for climate this November.
Ean Thomas Tafoya is an environmental activist and the co-chair of the Colorado Latino Forum.