Author: Professor Lena Dominelli
Professor Lena Dominelli holds a Chair in Social Work at the University of Stirling in Scotland. She was previously Co-Director at the Institute of Hazards, Risk and Resilience (2010-2016) at Durham University.
She has a specific interest in projects on climate change and extreme weather events including drought, floods, cold snaps; wild fires; earthquakes, volcanic eruptions; disaster interventions; vulnerability and resilience; community engagement; coproduction and participatory action research.
Her research projects include funding from the ESRC, EPSRC, NERC, the Department of International Development and Wellcome Trust. Lena is a prolific writer and has published widely in social work, social policy and sociology. She currently chairs the IASSW Committee on Disaster Interventions, Climate Change and Sustainability and has represented the social work profession at the United Nations discussions on climate change, since Cancun, Mexico in 2010. She has received various honours for her work.
Climate Change, an Inequitable Leveller
Climate change is the greatest challenge humanity currently faces. Action to reduce fossil fuel usage, exposure to particulate matter and emissions is largely ineffective, and greenhouse gas emissions continue rising. On 14 February 2019, thousands of ‘school children’ in the UK took a courageous stance against adults’ laissez-faire attitudes to climate change by striking and demanding urgent action to stem it. This is promising because they constitute the generations that will face the greatest impact of climate change during their lifetimes unless substantial action is taken now, or within 12 years according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018). However, multinational companies see unlimited opportunities to increase their wealth by exploiting resources newly made available by climate change, e.g., sailing through the unfrozen Bering Strait between Russia and Alaska; drilling for oil in Arctic regions. Incentivising these to change their behaviour requires drastic political action to stop their treating people and the earth as units on a profit ledger.
Climate change affects every part of the globe and everyone and everything within it. It has caused migratory displacements, deaths, ill-health from vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Lyme disease, diarrhoea, gastrointestinal infections and respiratory diseases; extreme weather events including droughts, cold snaps and floods; food shortages and malnutrition. But, these disastrous consequences do not affect everyone equally. Climate change is an unequal leveller. Thus, making environmental justice part of social justice as advocated by green social workers is urgent for the poorest people globally (Dominelli, 2012).
Populations who have contributed least to the ecological crises caused by burning fossil fuels are experiencing its worse effects – rising ocean levels; air, water and soil pollution, melting glaciers, threats to human habitation and livelihoods, unreliable growing seasons and food insecurity and malnutrition. The small island states sinking into the sea, poor people in the Global South and marginalised groups including women, children, older people, disabled people, feel its effects most. Even children’s migratory journeys to places of safety are full of danger – physical and sexual abuse, abduction to be trafficked into the sex trade or as child soldiers, and the murder of siblings and other family members before their eyes. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), children suffer the ill effects of climate change disproportionately. Of 150,000 deaths caused by climate change when the 21st century began, 132,000 (88 percent) were of children. Yet, adults make the decisions that determine children’s lives. Climate change affects children throughout their lifespan from the womb to birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and death. Changing this state of affairs requires adults, especially politicians, to take urgent action, as the schoolchildren striking against climate change inaction made clear. ‘Save the planet’! Children demand that adults take transformative action on climate change now. Will you?
Dominelli, L (2012) Green Social Work. Polity Press.
IPCC (2018) Special Report on Global Warming: Summary for Policymakers. UNFCCC, Geneva.