Digital exhibition: Making visible the invisibility of social work interventions on climate issues | On

The social work motto of “the person in his environment” lost its connection to the physical environment when it was redefined as the social environment by the socio-ecological theories of Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) of the mid-1970s. 1960. This orientation was called into question by environmental and ecological social work which refocused on the physical environment. Its main promoters in Canada, America and Australia (Ungar, 2002; Besthorn, 2008; Alston, 2013), reestablished the link between the physical environment and social systems. Alston also affirmed the importance of gender in these deliberations. However, it was not until the publication by Dominelli (2012) of Green social work that the link has been established between the industrial model of social production in industry and agriculture, social issues, social systems, individuals and power relations that have fostered structural inequalities, including environmental racism, and treated the earth as an entity to be exploited and its resources to be consumed with a destructive disregard for the consequences for the planet, the physical environment, its flora and fauna, and humanity as a whole. His acerbic critique emphasized alternatives to fossil fuel-driven development, global sharing and easy access to green technologies for the global South to develop sustainably and equitably, and the duty of people to care for the environment. earth and all that it contains.

Dominelli, motivated by the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, sought to organize the profession to take “natural” and (man-made) man-made disasters seriously through the Association International School of Social Work (IASSW). The tsunami came at the end of her eight-year term as IASSW President. On January 5, 2005, she presented a proposal titled Rebuilding People’s Lives After Disasters (RIPL) to the IASSW Board of Directors for international action on the issue. The School of Social Work in Ljubljana, Slovenia has become a key player in Sri Lanka. RIPL’s efforts have been informed by research evidence and community practice projects set up under the auspices of the Interdisciplinary Institute for Hazards, Risks and Resilience at Durham University in England. These included climate change and the provision of health and social care in the UK. Together with colleagues from the School of Social Work at (now) University College Copenhagen and the Danish International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the Danish International Council for Social Welfare (ICSW), she organized a side event related to UNFCCC COP meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 and drafted the first policy on climate change for consideration by the boards of their international organizations. These initiatives led the IASSW to become an accredited member of the RINGO at the UNFCCC meetings in 2010. The IASSW, ICSW and IFSW have arranged to consult, discuss and agree with their constituents around the world on a global program for social work and social development in 2010. One of its four pillars was environmental disasters, including climate change. Social workers reported on their activities on this pillar at their joint conference in Seoul in 2016.

Academics, practitioners and social work students have undertaken a range of activities, including practice projects ranging from helping to form energy-efficient communities by facilitating access to renewable energy sources. For example, practitioners in southern countries have made available solar panels for heating and lighting and solar-powered stoves for cooking. The IFSW invited the IASSW to join its efforts on United Nations Social Work Day, which sometimes covered climate change. In 2016, World Social Work Day through which IASSW and IFSW members together celebrate social work achievements locally across the world highlighted environmental initiatives, including those related to climate change , social and environmental justice. Publications, curriculum development, and action research projects provide ways to prepare the next generation of practitioners, researchers, and citizens to take climate change, extreme weather, and other issues seriously. disasters. Much remains to be done for the profession to make the consideration of climate risks, their prevention and their mitigation, routine elements of theory and practice.


The global movement to transform education and traditional practices has begun. This exhibition provides snapshots of some transformations that speak to how much more needs to be done, even to make existing work more visible within the profession and outside.

The references

Alston, M. (2013) “Environmental Social Work: Considering Gender in Climate Disasters”, Australian social work66(2): 218-233.

Besthorn, F. (2008) ‘Environmental Review: Deep Ecology for Social Work Education and Teaching’, Journal of Social Work Education22(1-2): 79-101.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979) The Ecology of Human Development: Experiences by Nature and by Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dominelli, L. (2012) Green social work: from environmental degradation to environmental justice. Cambridge: political press.

Ungar, M. (2002) “Deeper and Greener Social Work Practice”, Social Services Review76(3): 480-497.

Teresa H. Sadler