Community Science is Fueling Wisconsin EcoLatinos |
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Community Science is Fueling Wisconsin EcoLatinos

Wisconsin EcoLatinos participants partner with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum on the Tu Agua (Your Water) Project (photo by Francisco Guerrero)
Wisconsin EcoLatinos participants partner with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum on the Tu Agua (Your Water) Project (photo by Francisco Guerrero)

Later falls, earlier springs, smoky air from wildfires thousands of miles away–these are just a few examples of the impact of climate change in our state and in our everyday lives in recent years. The critical need to raise awareness and mobilize local communities that are often disproportionately impacted by these changes is part of what motivated Cristina Carvajal to launch Wisconsin EcoLatinos, the nonprofit she founded in 2021 and serves as its executive director. Her other mission is to educate people about everyday actions to reduce environmental pollutants. Serving Dane and Rock counties, the group works to empower and engage Latinos and people in disadvantaged communities in protecting both the environment and their health. Carvajal, who serves as the organization’s director, says these voices are often left out of sustainability and conservation conversations for a variety of reasons, including language and social barriers.

“It is our duty to advocate and speak up for people that cannot,” says Carvajal, whose staff includes outreach and program coordinators and volunteers. “One of our strategies is to do outreach; we go where people are and engage them in their own environment.”

Last summer, the group organized free kayak lessons with a dual mission to provide greater access to our natural resources and to educate participants about the impact of stormwater pollution on water quality. Last fall, Latino students who attended the Dane County High School Climate Conference could earn community volunteer hours with Wisconsin EcoLatinos. The conference featured guest speakers and workshops on renewable energy, climate activism, adopting eco-friendly products and services, and environmental education and career pathways.

Current Wisconsin EcoLatinos projects include a partnership, called the Tu Agua (Your Water) Project, with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum to increase participation in water quality initiatives. People who participate in the program become Water Quality Ambassadors in their own communities and neighborhoods.

Wisconsin EcoLatinos also tackles environmental hazards at home, with instruction on how to install air monitors and test their own water quality. The transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy is another ongoing conversation Carvajal is leading. For example, helping people take advantage of investments and incentives at the local, state and federal level, such as tax credits and rebates on solar energy and other energy-efficient home improvements, is a critical step toward environmental equity and inclusion.

“It’s important to give these tools to the community so they feel a sense of control over the topic,” says Carvajal.

Next up, says Carvajal, is a PFAS chemicals awareness campaign in partnership with the Catholic Multicultural Center and a tree planting project with the Urban Tree Alliance, both Madison-based organizations.

“People from all backgrounds want to help reduce emissions even if they don’t have the resources,” says Carvajal. “Their desire increases our commitment to find ways to protect their health and well-being from different environmental burdens.”


Lulu Fregoso is a former intern for the Climate and Energy Initiative. She is a student at UW Madison majoring in conservation biology and economics.

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