Social work has been ‘defined’ as a profession of many faces; an art and a science, whose knowledge base is eclectic. The increasing incidence of human and natural disasters, have resulted in a clarion call being made for the social work profession to play a meaningful role in tackling environmental challenges. Over the years, the social work profession has and began to with the environmentalist movement, and in the process terms such as “green social work”, and “environmental social work” have emerged.
It is for this reason that the publication, Environmental Social Work is most welcome. The chapters in the book enhance the social work profession’s understanding of the impact of the environment on human welfare.. Issues are presented in four broad parts, with the first part covering 5 chapters. These focus on theories of ecological and social justice, issues around sustainability, spirituality and human rights.. Sub-themes such as social work interventions with vulnerable groups affected by climate change are also considered, as are issues around environmental sustainability. The link between the environment and spirituality is also explored, a theme which will probably find resonance with readers in developing countries.
The second part also contains five chapters, which are case studies of environmental social work practice. Themes range from urban gardens and working with young offenders to practice with those directly affected by climate change. One case study is based on a campaign to save urban gardens in New York City, while another discusses social work practice with drought affected families in Australia. A third case study focuses on non-human animals, with the argument being that concern for the environment cannot be circumscribed in the interests of and well-being of humans alone. The final two case studies consider how social workers engage in environmental initiatives for young offenders in Houston, Texas and from Australia how social work can engage with the struggle for corporate social responsibility. Whilst these are illuminating case studies sadly all of them are based on experiences from the Western World.
The third part of the book examines education and learning about environmental issues in social work. Chapters focus on preparing social work students for eco-social work practice, and discuss ways in which to engage the local community with environmental issues. Social worker views of environmental issues are also covered, while another chapter argues that the best way to confront the complexity of environmental transformation is through social workers working in multidisciplinary teams. The final chapter in this part considers social work education for relief work. In addition to the 15 chapters, the book also has a (dedicated) conclusion which teases out emerging issues as well as new directions for working with those impacted by environmental issues.
The chapters in this publication mirror the diversity of environmental issues and activities. The book pushes the frontiers of the traditional social work practice paradigm, and is a worthwhile contribution to the discussion as it offers new directions for the social work profession in its quest for relevance. The publication implores social workers to appreciate that they have an important role to play and as one commentator succinctly put it, it is not the intention of this book to turn social workers into environmentalists, but to encourage social workers in their existing roles to engage in environmental social work. The book is indeed a useful contribution to existing literature as it addresses the existing disconnect between the work of environmentalists and social workers. Perhaps the book’s most glaring weakness is its failure to include examples from developing countries, particularly given that they tend to be the most adversely affected by environmental issues.
The question of social workers’ involvement in environmental affairs has been a controversial one, with some critics arguing that social workers cannot be expected to be experts in every field, however, given that ecological matters ultimately affect the quality of human life, and given the magnitude of the challenges at hand, it is logical that the social work profession be earnestly involved in the struggle for environmental protection. The volume is a must read for human service professionals, university students and academics.
Rodreck Mupedziswa is professor and head of the department of social work at the University of Botswana. He is a seasoned researcher and has served on a number of committees including the Advisory Committee of the UB/UPENN Research project on HIV and AIDS.