For years experts have known that climate change disproportionately affects Latinos. And, as we’re learning more about COVID-19, some have noted that many of the root causes of climate change also increase the chances of pandemics. And more sustainable practices could decrease risk for disease while also lowering risk for crises like the massive fires in California.
This week’s “5 Essential Updates” for our gente focuses on the ways COVID-19 overlaps with the climate crisis. We include farm workers harvesting under smokey skies, years of the meat industry dismissing pandemic warnings, and activists defending our people.
1. Farmwork through the smoke — In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and raging fires in California, farm workers are STILL being forced to choose between their health and a paycheck. A recent report found that long-term exposure to air pollution increases risk to COVID-19 death and wildfire smoke can exacerbate pre-existing conditions.
2. Incarcerated labor to fight fires — Latinos make-up around 40% of California’s incarcerated population, which has played a crucial role in containing wildfires for decades, for only $1 / hour. This year, many inmates were released from jail in order to protect them from the coronavirus. Relying on underpaid incarcerated people who are now absent from the fire lines is a questionable approach.
3. Meatpacking companies dismissed warnings — One of the hardest-hit industries from the pandemic are the meat packing plants, which employ a majority of immigrants and left tens of thousands of workers infected with COVID-19. These companies claimed there was no way to predict a pandemic, but a new report uncovered how this industry ignored warnings for years.
4. A Puerto Rican artist challenges catastrophe — Since Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2016, Puerto Ricans have suffered physically and economically. Now, they are being affected by tourists who flock to the island during COVID-19. A new video for the song, “Mío” by Boricua group Buscabulla, questions these tourists and their impact.
5. A fund for the undocumented — Erika VanDyke is a Colombian American in Michigan, and one of the organizers of La Lucha Fund, a grassroots effort that provides assistance to undocumented people during the pandemic. As Latinos continue to be among the most affected by ongoing crises, we applaud these types of support networks.