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.”

Architects, planners, and engineers working for climate change mitigation and adaptation

low carbon resilience coverA joint statement, “Advancing Integrated Climate Action”  was released in Fall 2018 by the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects , Canadian Institute of Planners , Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and the Canadian Water & Wastewater Association, acknowledging their ethical and civic responsibilities to address climate change issues, undertaking to improve professional development, and calling on all levels of government and Indigenous leaders to  show meaningful leadership in “advocating for integrated climate action and upholding commitments in the Paris Agreement.”  The 3-page Joint Statement, which includes much more,  is here.

What lies behind this statement? A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, in cooperation with the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) in Victoria, surveyed and interviewed planning professionals in British Columbia, and provincial and national professional associations on the issue of “low carbon resilience (LCR)”. The final report of their research,  Low Carbon Resilience: Best Practices for Professionals – Final Report   , was released in December 2018, providing case studies, tools and resources. The report includes a conceptual model of Low Carbon Resilience, as well as  best practices case studies of how LCR can be mainstreamed – for example,  local government planning in the City of Hamburg, Germany ; the British Columbia Energy Step Code ;  and the construction and operation of a major health facility, the Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christie Texas . The report also addresses the needs and possibilities for training and continuing professional development, and describes the database of key LCR-related tools and resources which is under construction.

An earlier report,  Professionals’ Best Practices for Low Carbon Resilience Summary of Phase One Engagement of Professionals and Professional Associations and Proposed Research Agenda summarizes the responses regarding individual attitudes and the role of professional associations .  The report identified “siloed thinking among professions” as a barrier to climate change action – leading, for example, to a lack of awareness of  the interconnections between zoning requirements, agricultural uses, biodiversity and infrastructure engineering in decisions about development and infrastructure planning.

The rationale behind the research:  “This project focused on the key role professionals play as change agents in climate action, and what is needed for all sectors to advance uptake of LCR-based practices. Communities and businesses rely on professional planners, engineers, developers, lawyers, and other experts for guidance, design, development, implementation, operations, maintenance and replacement of all aspects of society’s systems. Professionals are seminal in supporting and supplementing capacity at the local scale, where climate change impacts are felt most prominently, and where the greatest burden of response typically resides. It is therefore urgent that professionals are equipped to help local governments think through cost-effective plans that transcend outdated planning.”

It should be noted that Canadian professional engineers are an important part of this system, and  have long addressed their professional role related to climate change.  Engineers Canada’s  most recent Policy Statement on Climate Change details that history, sets out their position and makes recommendations for government.  In May 2018, Engineers Canada issued comprehensive guidelines for standards, practice and professional development in  National Guideline: Principles of Climate Adaptation and Mitigation for Engineers.

Professional Associations have a Role to Play in Climate Change

A report published by West Coast Environmental Law starts from the position that climate change is a cross-cutting issue that affects advice and decision-making in many different professions, including architects and engineers, professional foresters, biologists, insurance professionals, accountants, and city planners. The report calls for an enhanced role for professional associations using the existing tools, such as codes of conduct and ethics, standards of practice, requirements for continuing professional development, and policy statements. In one example, the author suggests a statement of ethical responsibility to “act in the public interest (including promoting sustainability); not speak beyond one’s expertise or competence; not make misleading statements or falsify data; and act with due diligence”. The report describes exemplary climate change initiatives underway by such groups as the Canadian Institute of Planners, Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (APEGBC), and Greenhouse Gas Management Institute (GHGMI).

LINKS

Professionals and Climate Change: How professional associations can get serious about global warming, written by Andrew Gage and published by West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL), a British Columbia “non-profit group of environmental law strategists and analysts dedicated to safeguarding the environment through law”. Available at:
http://wcel.org/sites/default/files/publications/Professionals%20and%20Climate%20Change_0.pdf

How Climate Change is Changing the Job of Professional Engineers

A feature article in the March issue of PE Magazine discusses how professional engineers in the U.S. are coping with the impacts of climate change and extreme weather on public infrastructure.  The article notes several local projects and describes the Climate Change Educational Partnership of the U.S. National Academy of Engineer’s Center for Engineering, Ethics, and Society, founded in 2011.  David Lapp, who serves on Canada’s Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee, is quoted for his thoughts on the potential for liability for those engineers who fail to take climate change adaptation into account.

LINK

“Change in the Weather” by Matthew McLaughlin, in PE Magazine (published by the National Society of Professional Engineers) March 2013 at  http://www.nspe.org/PEmagazine/13/pe_0313_Change.html?utm_source=Newsletter+Distribution+List&utm_campaign=dfdf19f1ac-Newsletter_Apr_25_2013&utm_medium=email

Canada Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee website of Engineers Canada is at http://www.pievc.ca/e/index_.cfm