The change in the presidency means nothing and everything for the HAF conservation team. It means nothing, because our goals and overall strategy don’t change when the President does. We work with all administrations and political parties. We are still luchando (fighting) for a voice for our communities, for equity and justice, and for a healthy environment for all. We are still focused on building Latino leaders with the resources, access, and confidence they need to be powerful advocates. Our first-ever Latino Advocacy Week and the 7th Latino Conservation Week in 2021 will be as fierce as ever this year.
And the transfer of power means everything. In 2020 and early 2021, the Latino community continued to grow and learn its power. Latino voter turnout in 2020’s battleground states was three times greater than in 2016, and Hispanic turnout broke records in Georgia’s runoff election in January. My new City Council Representative, Odette Ramos, is the first-ever Latino or Latina elected official in Baltimore. And she is a strong advocate for climate action.
This year, 2021 is bringing new opportunities for conservation and climate, to fill the gaps that Latinos and other communities of color face in the outdoors and in the realm of environmental justice. For one, the Great American Outdoors Act is now law, funding parks in nearly every county of the US, including treasured spaces in Latino communities. We also have new conservation allies in the White House. President Biden has already taken swift action to address climate change and undo environmental harms that threatened our treasured spaces. Vice President Kamala Harris is not only a historic figure with firsthand experience of racism and sexism, but a staunch promoter of environmental justice and champion of expanding outdoor access for underserved communities. We will miss her presence in the Senate, but are hopeful for her power in the Executive office.
Our conservation champions are important to us because Latino communities and other communities of color across the country are facing a “Nature Gap” – meaning they have less access to parks, beaches, and natural areas in general. According to a report from the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress, 67 percent of Latinos in the U.S. live in “nature deprived” areas, or areas with limited access to the outdoors. To begin undoing the harm caused by the nature gap, we must use the Great American Outdoors Act and the momentum to conserve 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030, to create new protected areas and restore degraded lands and waters. As has been driven home during the pandemic, the ability to get outside and have access to green and blue spaces is necessary for physical and mental health, especially for Latinos who are disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 and its knock-on impacts.
In 2021, I want our leaders to know it’s #TimeToAct on climate and put plans into action. Climate action and nature protection are two paths forward that can reduce the risk of future natural disasters and disease outbreaks, while keeping families safe, employed, and healthier in their homes. If targeted equitably, these solutions can help heal long-standing disparities that are causing communities of color to become sicker from the pandemic and feeling the economic effects of unemployment.
I'm envisioning a future where currently marginalized communities have access to all of the benefits nature provides – like shade, and flood protection, lower pollution levels, a place to exercise and take their children, and lower stress. A future where we prevent the worst climate threats, while protecting our most vulnerable communities and giving them the ability to bounce back from the inevitable changes they face.
My hope for the incoming administration is:
- Equitable action on climate that cleans our air and water, keeps communities safe from natural disasters, creates good jobs, and improves our well-being
- Fixing the Nature Gap on land and sea, by equitably implementing the Great American Outdoors Act and setting a goal to protect 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030
- Elevating and centering the needs and leadership of communities of color as we recover from the pandemic and build a just and healthy world for all
There is so much work to be done. What better way to replace lost income and provide meaningful work than to give us a chance to rebuild a more equitable, resilient, and healthy America?