Why are Hispanic Catholics so concerned about climate change?

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Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

According to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, Hispanic Catholics are more concerned about climate change than any other religious group in America. And not by a small amount.

Fully 43 percent of them say they are “very concerned” about climate change and another 30 percent say they are “somewhat concerned” — for a total of 73 percent. That’s compared to, in descending order, Nones (60 percent), Black Protestants (58 percent), Jews (53 percent), white mainline Protestants (43 percent), white Catholics (41 percent), and white Evangelicals (35 percent).

The contrast with white Catholics borders on astonishing. Only 17 percent of the latter say they are very concerned. Seventy percent of Hispanic Catholics who attend church regularly say their pastor often or sometimes discusses climate change but just 20 percent of white Catholics who also attend regularly say their pastor does. And where 44 percent of Hispanic Catholics say their congregation has participated in climate change related activities, only 15 percent of white Catholics say their congregation has.

It’s as if Hispanic Catholics and white Catholics belong to different churches. What gives?

The survey offers a hint or two. Sixty-two percent of Hispanics believe that people in poorer developing countries will be seriously harmed by climate change (as opposed to 49 percent of whites). By the same token, HIspanics (41 percent) are more than twice as likely to say they will personally be harmed a great deal by climate change than white Americans say they will (18 percent). (Thirty-six percent of African-Americans expect to be.)

It’s worth noting that perception of climate change as a threat is higher in much of Latin America than it is in the U.S., and that some Latin American countries — notably Costa Rica and Brazil — have already taken substantial steps to address it.

Striking as PRRI’s findings are, they do not stand alone. A couple of years ago, a survey of over 1,000 Latino voters by the Sierra Club and La Raza found that 77 percent believed that global warming was already happening, as compared to just 52 percent of all Americans. Anyone who thinks that concern about climate change is the province of overeducated liberals who have nothing better to worry about should think again. This is not the tree-hugger environmentalism of the 1970s.

It is also one more reason that Hispanics vote Democratic. And one more reason for climate-change-denying Republicans to keep them from voting.