Nevadans of color worry about climate change. But will that change their primary votes?

People line up to vote in Sparks, Nev., In November 2020.

People line up to vote in Sparks, Nev., In November 2020.

Cheryl Ward has noticed more summer wildfires in her home town of Elko, Nevada than ever

Last year, 610 fires burned 134,145 acres in Nevada. The number of acres burnt by wildfires in Nevada more than doubled from the 1980 to 1999 period to the stretch from 2000 to 2018.

“We’ve had more and more severe fires as we have the increase in temperatures each year and less precipitation,” Ward told the Reno Gazette Journal, part of the Gannett network, in April. “But a lot of people here in Elko don’t realize that. They think it’s just a change that’s happened throughout history. “

Ward is a Republican and a Latina – among the many voters of color who made up 36% of Nevada’s electorate in 2020 and who will be casting ballots on Tuesday in the state’s primary elections.

With everything from droughts to extreme heat to raging fires increasing in recent years in the West – which especially affects Black, Latino and Indigenous communities – climate change, and its effect on color voters, could play a deciding factor.

An April poll by Suffolk University / Reno Gazette Journal found that a majority of Nevadans are worried about climate change.

For Black respondents the results were even starker – 69% of Black respondents agreed that climate change impacts their daily lives, as opposed to 47% of white respondents.

“I think there’s some things that transcend other issues, and climate change is one of them,” Rep said. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., Who serves as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“For me as a first generation American, the legacy is, you know, your life is gonna be better than mine. Now, with Latino communities and communities of color, we see that opportunity closing in.”

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Hitting voters where they live

Jollina Simpson, a Las Vegas resident and a midwife homebirth, is still researching who she wants to vote for during Nevada’s primary. But she already knows she won’t cast a ballot for any climate change deniers.

“When I look at politicians not talking about climate change as being something that is real, something that is here and something that would need radical addressing to keep us safe, I can’t brush that aside,” Simpson said. “Because it affects every area of ​​my life.”

As a Black woman, Simpson said environmental problems affect her family personally on many levels – including her pocketbook.

“I have to pay more in energy costs because it’s getting hotter and there aren’t renewable sources that are affordable,” Simpson said. “In the middle of summer in Nevada, my electric bill could be really high— $ 300 and $ 400 a month, which is untenable sometimes.”

Other communities are feeling the pain as well.

“For Latinos, climate change is a personal issue,” said Danielle Deiseroth, the lead climate strategist for the Democratic group Data for Progress. “It’s not just directly impacting the health and well-being of their families here in America, but also the lives of their friends and their families abroad.”

For example, people of Mexican origin accounted for nearly 62%, a little over 37 million, of the nation’s overall Hispanic population as of 2019, according to the Pew Research Center. The United Nations Development Program calls Mexico “particularly vulnerable to the impacts of global climate change.”

And Latinos are more likely to live in rural areas where poor air quality is a serious problem – 24 million Latinos live in areas of the US that are most polluted by ozone smog, according to the Latino Community Foundation.

This is why environmental issues matter to Latinos, who “live and breathe the consequences of climate change,” said Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation, a civic engagement group mobilizing Latinos in California.

Similarly to Latinos, Black communities in the nation are one of the hardest-hit groups by climate change.

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A 2021 Environmental Protection Agency report found Black Americans were “40% more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature-related deaths.”

Additionally, after outlining six specific impacts of climate change, EPA researchers found Black people are more likely to face higher risks in all those categories.

Indigenous populations were historically displaced to areas that are impacted by climate change as well.

Present-day Indigenous lands are more likely exposed to environmental risks such as more extreme heat and less precipitation, a 2020 research article published in the journal Science found.

But all too often people of color are ignored in conversations about climate change, Martinez Garcel said.

“The whole climate justice movement has often left out the voices of Black and Brown leaders, even though the impact of climate change has impacted our communities,” she said.

Grijalva said the fight to protect the environment began decades ago during movements for social justice.

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“The (environmental justice) movement began … in response to what was seen as a pattern, a pattern of discrimination and racism in terms of society, and a pattern of disproportionate harm,” he said. “And a pattern of ignoring, and neglecting these communities in terms of where they fit into this process.”

Where climate could shift voters of color in Nevada

Sen.  Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Accuses acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock of insufficient regulation of opioids.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Accuses acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock of insufficient regulation of opioids.

According to NALEO, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Latinos make up 32.2% of the voting age population in Nevada’s first congressional district and 30.6% in the fourth congressional district.

The state’s first, third and fourth districts are all rated “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, meaning they are expected to be some of the most competitive House races.

In the first district, incumbent Democratic Rep. Dina Titus faces a primary from Amy Vilela, the co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Nevada in 2020.

Vilela is a progressive and was featured alongside Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush in the documentary “Knock Down the House.”

She has made climate a central component of her campaign er website reads “Las Vegas should be at the forefront of developing the Green New Deal, which, like the original New Deal before it, is the only solution whose scope is ambitious and comprehensive enough to meet the scale of the crisis we face. “

Titus, currently serving her sixth term, has also prioritized the environment, with a particular focus on Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository given her background as a nuclear energy expert.

Republicans will also compete Tuesday to determine the GOP nominee for the general election. Caroline Serrano, one of the candidates, previously led the Hispanic outreach effort in Las Vegas for former President Donald Trump.

In the fourth congressional district, Republicans are running on Tuesday to take on Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in November.

The Senate race

Nevada’s Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was the first Latina elected to the Senate. Republicans Adam Laxalt and Sam Brown are competing on Tuesday to challenge her in November.

“Cortez Masto has led efforts in the Senate to create clean energy jobs and address the impact of climate change,” said Josh Marcus-Blank, a spokesman for Cortez Masto’s reelection campaign.

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Alexa Aispuro, national digital campaigns manager at Chispa Nevada, the Latino-focused offshoot of the League of Conservation Voters, said that Cortez Masto and Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford are climate champions.

“I don’t think all of the candidates are perfect. But I think they’ve all done really good stuff,” she said.

Adam Laxalt, the frontrunner in the GOP Senate race, attacked President Joe Biden and Cortez Masto’s climate and energy policies as “anti-American” in a statement to USA TODAY.

“Biden and Masto continue to be beholden to the far left radical green new deal instead of changing course and pushing policies that will bring down these prices for the Latino community,” Laxalt said.

The Sierra Club opposed Laxal’s unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, citing his connections to conservative megadonor Charles Koch and calling him an “environmental travesty for Nevada.”

According to E&E News, “Laxalt has been openly skeptical of climate change science and the scientific consensus that humans are the main cause of global warming and its impacts.”

Republican Senate candidate from Nevada Adam Laxalt is running his campaign as a Trump-backed candidate.

Republican Senate candidate from Nevada Adam Laxalt is running his campaign as a Trump-backed candidate.

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Ángel Luis Molina, Jr., a professor at the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University, said there are diverse coalitions building around the issue of climate justice, of which Cortez Masto and fellow Democrats have an opportunity to capture their votes.

“I think there could be an opportunity there to frame it as this bigger push for climate justice that affects all of these racial and ethnic minorities and Indigenous communities in ways that they simply don’t affect other groups who have historically been more affluent or have had more access to environmental amenities, “Molina said.

Additionally, regularly meeting with local climate justice organizations in Nevada who know what communities of color need should be a priority, Molina added.

“Democrats need to send strong and clear messages to Latino voters, and the message has to say that Democrats are going to invest in the longer pursuit of climate justice well after the election season has passed,” he said.

Contributing: Amy Alonzo, Reno Gazette Journal

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nevada primary: Voters of color want climate change action