Social workers urged to advocate for a Green New Deal and climate justice

environmental justice social workersThe  November issue of the journal Environmental Justice includes “Time is Up: Social workers take your place at the climate change table” ( free access only until November 22, 2019). The authors maintain that “Social workers are uniquely situated to be involved, with their training in social policy, legislative advocacy, and community organizing, in combating the negative effects of climate change and the inherent social justice issues associated with this issue. However, …. they must be trained on topics such as disaster-specific trauma, bereavement, and resource disruption.

The article begins with a broad overview of policies related to climate change – including the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement, but the main focus is on social workers in the United States as actors in climate change.  Based on reviews of the social work literature between 2008 and 2019, the authors conclude that what little has been written has focused on consequences and/or coping strategies after a natural disaster. They  also conclude that  most of the climate-related training of social workers is occurring outside of the United States in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

The article reveals how the professional organization,  the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, has viewed the climate emergency.  The AASWSW issued its  12 Grand Challenges for Social Work in 2016, and it included a goal to “Create social responses to a changing environment”. A separate Policy Briefing outlines amibitious goals, including: (1) adopt and implement evidence-based approaches to disaster risk reduction, (2) develop policies targeting environmentally induced migration and population displacement, and (3) strengthen equity-oriented urban resilience policies and proactively engage marginalized communities in adaptation planning.  A 2015 background paper preceded the goal statement:  Strengthening the Social Response to the Human Impacts of Environmental Change .

The latest issue of the Association’s journal Social Work Today  is a progress report on the Grand Challenges. Regarding the changing environment, it reports that the Association has been advocating for the Green New Deal, and will “examine the social work implications of the proposed Green New Deal and to call social workers to action around environmental justice policies.”  It concludes:

“One of the greatest challenges toward continued progress is in making social workers aware of their role and responsibility in addressing both the causes and consequences of climate change,” …. Many social workers feel there are more immediate issues to deal with, even if they acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.”

Scientists, engineers, doctors protest the climate emergency

Scientists captured global attention with dire climate warnings in November when the mainstream media amplified their message contained in an article published in the academic  journal BioScience.  The article itself is clear and direct, beginning with:

“Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.” On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.”

On the issue of The Economy, the article states: “Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.”

The Alliance of World Scientists invites scientists from around the world to sign on to the message. Summaries about the warnings appeared in The Guardian here  and in Common DreamsWarning of ‘Untold Human Suffering,’ Over 11,000 Scientists From Around the World Declare Climate Emergency” .   A Canadian viewpoint  appears in an article in the  Edmonton edition of the Toronto Star ,“5 Alberta scientists tell us why they joined 11,000 scientific colleagues in declaring a climate emergency” .

Engineers:

Like the scientists, other professionals recently spoke up about their “moral obligation” to do what they can to fight the climate emergency.  “Leading Australian engineers turn their backs on new fossil fuel projects” in The Guardian reports: “About 1,000 Australian engineers and 90 organisations – including large firms and respected industry figures who have worked with fossil fuel companies – have signed a declaration to “evaluate all new projects against the environmental necessity to mitigate climate change”.  The article focuses on  a new group, Australian Engineers Declare  , which issued an Open Letter in September 2019,  acknowledging that their professional organization, Engineers Australia, has a strong policy regarding climate change, but calling for faster action to address climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.  Engineers Declare states that engineers are connected to 65% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and that “engineering teams have a responsibility to actively support the transition of our economy towards a low carbon future. This begins with honestly and loudly declaring a climate and biodiversity emergency…we commit to strengthening our work practices to create systems, infrastructure, technology and products that have a positive impact on the world around us.” The declaration continues to list specific actions, including: “Learn from and collaborate with First Nations to adopt work practices that are respectful, culturally sensitive and regenerative.”

Physicians:

doctors DXR-logo-webOn November 1, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious  medical journals which has published a Countdown Report on Climate Change and Health since 2016.  As reported in “Protesting climate change is a doctor’s duty” ,  the most recent remarks were made in a video  which calls for health professionals to engage in nonviolent social protest to address climate change. The video cites the British professional standard, Duties of a Doctor, and lauds  Doctors for Extinction Rebellion , four of whom have been arrested in London. The website of Doctors for Extinction Rebellion chronicles recent activities including that on October 17th 2019, the Royal College of Physicians committed to Divest from Fossil Fuels.

Canadian youth continue climate strikes and join the political push for a Canadian Green New Deal

fridays may 3Students in approximately 95 towns and cities across Canada went on strike from school on May 3, continuing their Fridays for Future campaign .  As was the case after the huge March 15 demonstrations ,  mainstream press coverage was limited, but included a front-page story in the Sudbury Star . Other coverage:  Corner Brook Newfoundland ; Regina Saskatchewan , Edmonton , and Vancouver, where an article in The Straight (May 3) summarizes the strike in Vancouver and notes others across Canada and the world.  In Halifax, CBC News reported that 400 students marched, despite threats of suspension from at least one high school .  In “Thousands march for action on climate change in Montreal as city braces for flooding”, the CBC reports that intergenerational demonstrations were held in Quebec on April 27, and states “Quebec’s largest unions took part in similar marches in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Rimouski, Rouyn-Noranda, Alma, Gaspé, Mont-Laurier and Ottawa.”

Youth are driven by fear:  The National Observer has launched a new series on Youth, Parents and the Climate Crisis with “Climate strikes and the youth mental health crisis” (May 2).  Similarly,  “Meet the millennials grieving for the future of planet Earth” describes ecological grief circles in Montreal .  The words of a sampling of youth leaders are revealing in the interviews from  “Canadian Teens Told Us Why They’re Striking Over Climate Change” (May 2) in  Vice . 

What’s Next?  The Federal Election and a Green New Deal: Students say they will continue their school strikes, and in addition, some are now joining the political fight, despite being too young to vote in many cases.   Climate Strike Canada has posted an Open Letter and online petition which lists their demands:

“We, as citizens, therefore call upon all political parties and politicians to create and commit to a science-based and human rights focused Emergency Plan for Climate Justice that limits global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

We, as citizens, pledge to vote only for political parties and politicians that include the following demands in their Emergency Plan for Climate Justice.

  • Bold Emissions Reductions Targets
  • Separation of Oil and State
  • A Just Transition
  • Environmental rights
  • Indigenous rights
  • Conservation of Biodiversity
  • Protection for Vulnerable Groups

SUZUKI green new dealSeveral youth organizations are among the 67 groups who announced for a Green New Deal for Canada  on May 6, launching another political movement to fight for  climate change action in the coming election.  The Energy Mix provides a summary of these new political campaigns  in “Canadian Coalitions’ Election Platforms Call For Faster Action On Climate” (May 7).  Common Dreams also describes the new group in “‘The Pact for a Green New Deal’: Visionary Roadmap From Canadian Coalition Launched”  (May 6).

Our Time launches youth Campaign for a Green New Deal in Canada

OurTime_logoOn April 17,  young people and millennials  launched  a new national campaign to work for a Green New Deal for Canada, in a “massive economic and social mobilization”.  The stated  goal of the group, Our Time,  is “to organize and mobilize a generational alliance of young and millennial voters that’s big enough and bold enough to push politicians to support a Green New Deal in the lead up to the 2019 election.”

Our Time  is supported by 350.org and launches with “hub groups” already established in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax.  (A brief article by the Halifax organizer is here ).    It aims to form a national network from across different communities, causes, movements, and generations –it states clearly that older people are welcome in a supporting role.

What do we mean when we say we want a “Green New Deal for Canada?”  traces the growth of the priorities, from the Good Work Guarantee outlined in December 2018 to the policies under consideration as of March 2019. These include four pillars for a GND for Canada: “it meets the scale and urgency of the climate crisis; it creates millions of good jobs; it enshrines dignity, justice, and equity for all, ensuring climate solutions lift up all communities and reflect the reality that frontline, marginalized and Indigenous communities are bearing the brunt of fossil fuel and climate impacts; it works in service of real reconciliation — respecting the rights, title and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples.”

The Our Time campaign has been described in “As Youth-Led Campaign Kicks Off, Poll Shows Majority of Canadians Want a Green New Deal, Too” in Common Dreams (citing a North99 poll on Canadian attitudes to Green New Deal in early  April 2019, here ).  Another recent poll, by Ipsos was reported  in  “Climate And Environment Emerge As Top Public Concerns Before Canadian, Australian Elections” in The Energy Mix (April 24) , and shows  the timeliness of the Our Time focus on political action. Ipsos reports that Canadian concern about climate change at 48%  is higher than the global average (37%), and Canadians ranked their top five policy issues as: health care, the economy, housing, taxes, and climate change (in that order).

Climate activism in Quebec:  An update on activism in Quebec’s social contract for the climate  comes in “Quebec’s ‘Climate Spring’ speaks to broad support for environmental action” published in iPolitics  on April 17.   “In the span of a few months, 317 Quebec municipalities, representing almost 74 per cent of the population of Quebec, have endorsed a Declaration of Climate Emergency; close to 268,000 individuals have signed a pact to individually and collectively minimize their footprint and pushing for the adoption of a climate law; and a class action on behalf of all Quebecers 35 and under has been filed against the federal government for inaction on the climate file. Thousands marched twice in the bitter cold of late 2018 to demand climate action.”  And as the WCR reported,  the greatest turnout in Canada’s  Fridays for Future demonstrations on March 15 was in Montreal, with 150,000 marchers .  The presence of the Extinction Rebellion in Quebec is reported by the Montreal Gazette in “The clock is ticking and environmentalists aren’t going to take it anymore” (April 22).  Extinction Rebellion held its first meetings in Montreal in January, held workshops on civil disobedience and on the psychological toll of climate change, and demonstrated  in Montreal on April 17.  The article also profiles Sara Montpetit, a 17-year-old student who “has emerged as Montreal’s answer to Greta Thunberg” and has been leading weekly strikes as part of the Fridays for Future movement.  Finally, the  article highlights the French-language website Chantiers de la Duc which proposes 11 action plans, related to the Citizens’ Declaration of Climate Emergency.

canada may 3 climate strikeYouth climate activism across Canada keeps growing:  WCR  covered Canadian youth climate activism for the March 15th global Fridays for Future strike here .  Some  more recent articles have appeared in advance of the Canada-wide Fridays for Future strike scheduled for May 3 :

Meet the youth climate strikers leading Canada’s Fridays for Future movement”  from Ecojustice (April 24)

Student organizers report back on March 15 climate strike” in Rabble.ca   (March 21)

2019 is the year young people rise for climate justice” in Medium  (April 9) – which  describes the Powershift: Young and Rising event in Ottawa in February 2019.

“Young people banding together to demand more action on climate change”  in the Halifax Chronicle Herald (April 22) – which includes the Halifax activities of the global youth climate group  iMatter. 

 

 

 

 

 

Generational justice and climate change: we can all strike for our future

The constitutional challenge by the government of  Saskatchewan to the Canadian government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  is underway – hearings were held in February and a decision is pending, with a similar challenge by Ontario to be heard in April. The main purpose of the court challenges is to nullify the federal government’s national carbon tax program , the signature issue of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  But the case has also given youth activists an opportunity to address the intergenerational justice of Canada’s climate change policies, as described in “Canada obliged to protect future generations from climate change, test case on carbon tax hears”   (Feb. 20)  in The Narwhal.

The preamble of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  states: “…Parliament recognizes it is the responsibility of the present generation to minimize impacts of climate change on future generations.”   This gave the Intergenerational Climate Coalition, led by  Generation Squeeze ,  a platform, as recognized intervenors, to argue that: “Failure to price pollution discriminates against younger Canadians, because it puts in jeopardy our reasonable aspiration to thrive in 2030 and beyond” and “the health threats to children and future generations are vastly disproportionate to their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions”. A press release in December 2018 describes the coalition and summarizes their arguments – mostly based on health consequences of climate change.

This issue of intergenerational  justice was also addressed by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood in “The all too ugly truth: Climate change is generational genocide” , published  in Behind the Numbers in February.  Echoing the strong and direct tone we have come to expect from Greta Thunberg,  Mertins-Kirkwood states: “For the generations poised to inherit our warming world, the complacency and greed of their predecessors is no longer being tolerated. From Autumn Peltier’s presentation to the United Nations to the climate strikes organized by school children across Europe to the Quebec youth suing the government for failing to protect the environment, young people are refusing to sit by while this existential crisis deepens.”  He continues: “The perpetrators of the climate change genocide include the fossil fuel industry and climate-denying politicians, of course, but also the silent majority of fossil fuel consumers who actively ignore the mounting scientific evidence or otherwise take no responsibility for the path we are on. It is this generation’s campaign of destruction that is being inflicted upon all other and future generations.”

Youth are asking for help:  The main point of Mertins-Kirkwood’s article is to urge us all to act:  First, by recognizing and acknowledging how we have contributed to the problem; Second, by making climate change “a central concern for everyone in your life” ; and third, by supporting  those fighting for a better future, through donations, but also by amplifying youth voices “online and beyond”.  Greta Thunberg has also stated:  “If you think that we should be in school instead, then we suggest that you take our place in the streets, striking from your work. Or, better yet, join us, so we can speed up the process.”

How to respond? “Intergenerational” organizations exist to support the actions of youth activists:  for example, in Canada, Canadian Parents for Climate Action, and  For our Grandchildren Canada ; in Australia, Australian Parents for Climate Action and  1 Million Women .   Fridays for Future Canada   is coordinating the school strikes, but there are many more  youth-led activist groups, many of whom are asking for support and donations.   Some Canadian examples:  Canadian Youth Climate Coalition ; ENvironment JEUnesse  (Quebec group for under-35’s suing the government) ; PowerShift Young and Rising  ; Youth Climate Lab ; The 3% Project .

Youth in at least 22 communities in Canada are participating in the Global Fridays for the Future climate Strike on March 15.  As George Monbiot wrote in Resilience,  “Young climate strikes can win their fight. We must all help”.

fridays for future strikes

An excellent example:  At their most recent climate strike, elementary school students in Sudbury were presented with a letter  of support from the faculty members of Laurentian University.