Social Work & Community Development

World Environment Day and the Role of Social Workers

Jun 03, 2021 | By Saranne Durham
World Environment Day and the Role of Social Workers

Social Workers and environmental advocacy are intertwined. The more you examine the evidence the clearer it becomes that involving social workers in environmental protection is very important. In fact, Social Workers could be a key resource needed for a successful preventative, rather than mitigation of disaster, strategy. One which has the ability to sustainably save our environment.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers address life challenges and aim to improve wellbeing. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect are central to their work. As such, they promote social change, development, social cohesion and empowerment as well as protection of communities.

“Social Workers are change advocates.”

Specifically, they focus on improving the lives of those who are most vulnerable. Thus, Social workers are at the coal face of a community’s suffering and triumphs. They are ideally positioned to see what’s coming and what is needed to avert disaster or decrease its impact. As a result, they are key advocates of change.

What is World Environment Day?

Annually, on the 5th June, we celebrate World Environment Day. It was first held in 1974 and is the United Nations awareness and action campaign focused on environmental protection. Environmental protection highlights issues such as global warming, marine pollution, wildlife crime, sustainable consumption and human overpopulation.

How does Social Work and World Environment Day Overlap?

One of the overlaps between social work and environmental protection is a community’s vulnerability risk.

Three factors that Increase a Community’s Vulnerability Risk

  1. Physical and Material Conditions. For example, degradation and the inability to protect the environment.
  2. Organisational Conditions. Such as weak or non-existent social support networks.
  3. Motivational Conditions. For example, a heavy dependence on external support.

These three factors relate to the environmental advocacy campaigns which highlight sustainable consumption and human overpopulation as well as wildlife crime.

Overpopulation

Overpopulation creates vulnerability within a community. An increase in the number of people can cause overpopulation. This may be as a result of an increase in births, a decrease in death rates or an increase in immigration. It can also be as a result of a depletion and scarcity of resources.

The Impact of a Depletion of Resources

The impact of decreased access to and depletion of resources usually starts off slowly and then accelerates over time. The result is that those who can will relocate in the hope of a better life, which often leads to rapid urbanisation. The consequence of this is overpopulation in an additional area and escalation of another community’s vulnerability risk. Those who cannot relocate, live in an increasingly resource scarce environment which worsens their vulnerability. If they are in a rural area, then an increase in wildlife hunting and illegal animal trading is likely to also occur. The most common problems associated with vulnerability are health challenges, lack of employment, food insecurity, housing and illiteracy. Additionally, poor social support accelerates the risk of those already in a vulnerable position.

“Vulnerability can be prevented through intervention by experts.”

Disaster Management

There are three classifications of disasters: Natural, Man-made and a hybrid of Natural and Man-made disasters. Disaster managers are responsible for the planning, coordination and implementation of interventions based on the risk evaluation of a situation.  Therefore, the primary part of disaster management is prevention and mitigation. Prevention aims to ensure that a disaster is avoided or at least minimised. Mitigation focuses on reducing the severity of a disaster that has already occurred. Ideally, interventions should be preventative.

Social Worker as Environmental Protectors

The best disaster managers are those who are experts in their field. Within community settings, social workers are experts at seeing potential causes of vulnerability as well as preventative measures.

For example, Social Workers are able to see the realities within a community. This means that they see the dynamics which can lead to an inability to protect the natural environment around a community. A degradation of the natural environment leads to resource depletion and scarcity, which results in overpopulation. Essentially, too many people in one area leads to unsustainable consumption. In more rural areas it can also lead to illegal wildlife hunting as a source of food and income. The consequence of this is the risk of extinction of a species. Unsustainable consumption can result in rapid urbanisation, which increases the vulnerability risk of additional committees. Thus, cycles of unsustainable consumption and environmental damage spread.

Thus, involving Social Workers in policy making, rollout and evaluation will give environmentalists an advantage in their pursuit for environmental justice.

Improving Environmental Justice with Social Workers

Social Workers are a valuable asset and should be included in disaster risk and management teams. Especially ones that focus on environmental protection. Social Workers can provide an additional viewpoint on how to prevent unsustainable consumption and environmental damage as well as wildlife crime. They are specialists in understanding people and their communities. Their insight includes knowing what interventions would work best for a specific community and the dynamics thereof. This means that they are able to pre-empt and better prevent displacement, rapid urbanisation and immigration ahead of resource depletion and scarcity.

“Social Workers are valuable assets within environmental protection strategies.”

Having a Social Worker as part of an environmental policy team means that a preventative environmental intervention is more likely to be successful. This is because it would be tailored to a situation and a community’s individual challenges which could lead to their increased vulnerability.

Become a Change Advocate

Are you passionate about the environment and want to promote positive change? Do you want to make an impact in communities?  If so, enquire today and find out more about a Bachelor of Social Work. This degree is an honours equivalent professional degree. It incorporates a Green Social Work and Sustainable Development module to give graduates an advantage in their environmental justice pursuits. Apply today to be part of safeguarding the environment as you change the lives of communities.

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