This is a guest blog post by Amanda Merck for the Every Body Walk! July Monthly Theme “Climate and Health” for the #Walk4Change quarter. Merck completed her MPH with a concentration in Physical Activity and Health. She curates content for Salud America! (@SaludAmerica), a Latino childhood health project based at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio. She focuses on the latest research, resources, and stories related to policy, systems, and environmental changes to enhance equitable access to safe places for kids and families to walk, bike, and play. 

Latinos are more worried about and more engaged with the issue of climate change than non-Latinos.

More than three in four Latinos (78%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, compared to 57% of non-Latinos, according to a 2017 study.

Half of Latinos think global warming is harming Americans, compared to 34% of non-Latinos.

They are right.

Our changing climate—due to continued pollution—has numerous direct and indirect impacts on physical, mental, and community health.

For example:

  • Rising temperatures and extreme weather events, can lead to fatalities, injuries, malnutrition, asthma, cardiovascular failure and disease, and water-borne and vector-borne illnesses.
  • Loss of property, occupation, autonomy, and personally important places can have economic and psychological effects, which compounds stress, suppresses the immune system, and increases vulnerability for several physical and mental ailments.
  • Outdated or inadequate infrastructure can exacerbate exposure to environmental risks in disadvantaged communities, which degrades resilience, forces migration, and intensifies economic inequality.

Latinos believe we need to take action now to reduce the pollution that dirty fuels leave behind causing damage to the climate.

Half of Latinos (51%) say they definitely or probably would participate, or already are participating, in a campaign to convince elected officials to take action to reduce global warming, compared to 29% of non-Latinos.

Climate action benefits all Americans, but are particularly impactful for Latinos, who are twice as likely to live in smog-polluted and climate-impact cities.

These heavily polluted cities are often auto-dependent.

Auto-dependence is an important factor because transportation is one of the two largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions.

Moreover, climate action to reduce auto-dependence and improve transportation options─like investing in and promoting public transit, sidewalks and bike lanes─can solve multiple health and equity issues simultaneously.

Walkable urban places, for example, correlate with health, equity, and environmental benefits.

People who can bike, walk and take transit to their destinations improve physical health, reduce stress and anxiety, increase access to opportunity, and save money. Saving on automobile costs is particularly important for families with long commutes to work and who are housing-cost burdened. Many of these households are just one unforeseen event from losing their home.

However, housing and transportation trends have pushed Latinos farther from walkable places.

Even though Latinos walk, bike, and use public transit or carpooling more than non-Latinos, they face unsafe routes and unreliable transportation.

Latinos are not only burdened by damage to the climate resulting from lack of transportation options, but also by limited access to health- and wealth-building opportunities, increased risk for chronic disease, and increased risk for fatalities and serious injuries resulting from lack of safe transportation options.

Improving transportation options can both reduce pollution and improve Latino quality of life.

Read how these four communities are leading the way for public transit and walking.

Check out this guidebook to integrate transit and Complete Streets as well as this guidebook to improve access to transit for people walking/biking.

To urge support from federal representatives, Smart Growth America created an email campaign to send a message to your senators and representatives asking them to pass a strong, binding federal Complete Streets to help save lives and create a safer, more prosperous future for our country.