Just one week ago, Nicole Hernandez Hammer, a climatologist who lives with her husband and son in Jupiter, Florida, received an unusual call from Washington, D.C.
It was the White House — would she be interested in attending Tuesday’s State of the Union with First Lady Michelle Obama, who’d caught wind of her work raising awareness about the risks posed by climate change to minority communities?
“Amazing," she said. “I wasn’t expecting it — it was definitely a surprise.”
Hammer will be joined by students, an astronaut, an Afghanistan war veteran, and the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, as well as Alan Gross, the former government employee recently freed by Cuba.
But Hammer stands out because she will be among the only representatives of an issue that one month ago Sec. of State John Kerry described as grave a threat to global security as terrorism.
Hammer would agree — so much so that she recently quit academia, where she spent the past 15 years, to become a full-time activist. A Guatemalan immigrant with Cuban heritage, she says climate change represents a particular menace to Latinos.
"The science on climate change is conclusive, it's real, it’s beginning to happen, and it's human caused," she said. "And I think that communities of color need to know this — we are disproportionately impacted by it, and will be more so in the future."
According to a recent government study, 49 percent of America’s Latino population lives along U.S. coastlines, many of which are now vulnerable to sea level rise. Many others live in areas likely to be impacted by fluctuating water supplies.
Here is a map showing water supplies imperiled by climate change from GlobalChange.gov.
And here is where America’s largest hispanic population is located:
Hammer is also focused on raising climate change awareness among fellow mothers. The principal advocacy group she has joined, Moms Clean Air Force, was responsible for submitting her name to the White House.
"I think Nicole was chosen because she made a big change this past year leaving the academic world to advocate for climate action," Gretchen Dahlkemper, MCAF's national field manager, said in an email. "I think it is so powerful that she realized the science was settled on climate (and was a part of proving that) and is passionate about acting on that science by advocating for good policy."
While the group’s focus is national, Hammer’s work remains mostly focused on Florida, where she says much more must be done to address the issue.
“Even though we are ground zero for climate change, there are a lot of people who don’t know we are in that position,” she said. “So it’s really important to educate our community on this issue here.”
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.