The various social work techniques are introduced in this post along with how they fit into environmental activism. Additionally, case studies from India that focus on social work practise are highlighted.
Social Work Methods
Integrated Use of Methods
Because of climate change, rising consumerism, and unplanned urbanisation, modern nations are facing enormous environmental concerns. The frequency of natural disasters is rising, pollution levels are increasing, natural resources are being used up faster than they can be replenished, indigenous communities are being uprooted more frequently, there are ongoing conflicts over natural resources, and there are more instances of widespread environmental injustice. These challenges "threaten human health and well-being; destabilize assets, coping capacities, and response infrastructures; and substantially increase the number of socially, economically, and psychologically vulnerable individuals and communities"(Kemp & Palinkas, 2015, p. 3).
People all around the world, especially in emerging nations, rely heavily on the environment and its resources. This helps us understand the complex relationship between human well-being and environmental sustainability. This is mostly due to the dependence of the vast majority of these people on nature for their daily nutrition and means of subsistence. Nature is their lifeline, whether they are peasants, forest dwellers, graziers, fishermen, or any of the numerous other people who scrape out a living from their natural surroundings.
Therefore, it is only inevitable that these groups would suffer the most from the growing global crises brought on by environmental deterioration, climate change, and the depletion of natural resources, which has posed a tremendous threat to the existence and well-being of all humans. They "disproportionately affect populations of lower economic privilege or social status, disrupting employment and income, escalating food insecurity, and degrading the ecologically vulnerable, inadequately resourced locations where poor and marginalized groups often live. Environmental inequities are also social inequities, with significant social justice implications" (Kemp & Palinka, 2015, p. 3).
Social work's commitment to social justice and the welfare of people makes it necessary for it to incorporate environmental justice into its primary objectives. As a result, current challenges of ecological marginalisation and environmental justice are important topics for social work discussions, research, and active participation. The field of social work is well-positioned to play a significant part in creating and putting into action novel techniques to foresee, reduce, and address the social and human components of environmental concerns.
Social work has continuously sought to ensure that its clients and groups are adjusted to their environments while maintaining its focus on the "person-in-environment" concept. The core interaction between humans and their natural environment was largely overlooked up until very recently, and perceptions of this environment were limited to the "social" environment.
In the more recent context, it has become clear that social work must both acknowledge and act upon the intrinsic and symbiotic relationship between human wellness and nature. This is clear from the National Association of Social Work's policy statement from 2000, which supported the idea that social work should include the terms "environment" and "environmental" in its professional mission. It acknowledged that the "person-in-environment" perspective is best realised when people and the environment are protected through sustainable development. The compatibility of sustainable development and the "person-in-environment" concept establishes a solid theoretical base on which the practise of social work at the micro- and macrolevels may be specifically implemented.
According to Besthorn and Saleeby (2003), social work has always had a conflicted view of its place in the natural world. According to Park (1996), who was referenced by Jones (2010), there are unmistakable connections between environmental difficulties and the traditional social problems that social work is often concerned with. Social workers advocate for social protection systems to be shaped so that they preserve and enhance social relationships, promote social integration, and make relationships between people as harmonious as possible, regardless of whether they work in highly resourced social protection systems, environments where social protection is entirely based on culture and religion, or aid-reliant contexts.
Environmental injustice that emerges from unequal resource distribution negatively impacts the poor and others who depend on the environment for their livelihood. Social workers have a part to play in promoting knowledge of alternative development models that are based on the principles of environmental justice and sustainable living as well as in attempting to declare that environmental degradation is unacceptable. The field of social work is well-positioned to play a significant part in creating and putting into action novel techniques to foresee, reduce, and address the social and human components of environmental concerns.
Local, national, and international disaster preparedness and response, assistance to displaced populations, collaborative capacity building to mobilise and strengthen place-based, community-level resilience, assets, and action, and advocacy to draw attention to the social and human dimensions of environmental change are among the key areas of social work leadership.
Social Work Methods
A social worker has a tonne of options when it comes to how they might practise environmental awareness and action. A determined effort must be made in all such efforts to alleviate or lessen the ongoing environmental impact on the lives of those who depend on the environment. This effort must be given top priority. Let's take a quick look at how social work can be used to promote environmental awareness.
Casework is a fundamental approach to social work that focuses on the development and adjustment of the person toward more fulfilling interpersonal relationships. The frequently cited purpose of social casework has been to assist people with issues that they are unable to resolve on their own. Mary Richmond (1922) defined social casework as “those processes which develop personality through adjustments consciously effected, individual by individual, between men and their social environment” (p. 98–99). The context of Richmond's casework was the interaction between the client and the social worker. She emphasised both direct action resulting from this interdependence and indirect action resulting from the use of environmental resources.
If we examine the social context of contemporary social casework, we discover that social dysfunction—basically, the breakdown of a person's capacity to fulfil his social role in a way that is both personally and socially satisfying—must be seen as an inevitable part of modern life because it involves "living in a technologically advanced society to which our cultural, social, psychological, political, and economic apparatus has not yet learned to accommodate it" (Cornell, 2006).
Living in an environmentally depleting world, which tends to undermine the physical and psycho-social welfare of more and more individuals as they find themselves being faced with rising environmental risks/hazards and vulnerabilities, is a significant aspect of modern existence. Because to the neo-liberal policies being implemented all over the world, more people are experiencing alienation from their traditional habitats and natural resource base, as well as an increase in marginalisation.
There is increased potential for social casework as a means of assistance for all persons whose lives are disrupted due to adverse environmental changes in light of current trends and understanding. This approach can help people and families deal with the challenges and issues brought on by the physical, psychological, social, and economic repercussions of environmental degradation, pollution, and disasters.
Casework can help clients and their families get the resources and services they need to reduce their susceptibility and/or strengthen their ability to withstand environmental hazards and disasters. Casework professionals can work with those who have survived environmental catastrophes to assist them get the proper and long-lasting recovery. People who experience various forms of environmental injustice might be empowered to recover their rights and their place in the highly politicised environmental situations.
Richmond's concept of social casework therefore only included the "social" environment, whereas today's emphasis on the "physical" and "biological" aspects of the environment is necessary to permit a more composite match between the "person" and the "environment." As a result, it is suggested that the role of social casework is to intervene in areas of personal uncertainty brought on by environmental circumstances and manifesting as individual or social dysfunctions.
Group work is a type of social work that enables individuals to improve their social skills via deliberate group experiences and to deal with their individual, interpersonal, and societal problems more skillfully (Kanopka, 1963). It seeks to generate the kinds of group conditions necessary for integrated, cooperative group action for the accomplishment of common goals and aims to develop people through the interaction of personalities in a group setting.
The word "person" in the phrase "person-in-environment" signified a stronger emphasis on people. Social work employs strategies for involving communities and groups as well. Hawley (1986) emphasised that a sustainable relationship with the natural world cannot be reached via the acts of individuals working alone because "adaptation is a collective rather than an individual process" since the current environmental dangers necessitate a communal response (p. 12).
Thinking ecologically entails seeing "people" as a whole as opposed to the individual "person." This emphasises how important working in groups is. As was already mentioned, certain groups, such as women, children, older adults, rural and urban poor, people who live in forests, tribal groups, fishermen, miners, industrial labourers, people with disabilities, low-income groups, and populations who are geographically vulnerable, suffer disproportionately from environmental change and degradation.
Disproportionate effects include reduced employment and income due to climate change, rising food insecurity, and the impact of extreme weather events in marginal, ecologically susceptible, and under-resourced areas where the poor frequently reside. In such a setting, one or more of the following constitute fundamental areas for social group work engagement:
group based disaster preparedness and response;
assistance to dislocated groups and populations;
collaborative capacity building for sustainable livelihoods for vulnerable groups;
work with women to integrate their perspective in environment programmes/ policies;
support to groups facing environmental threats and challenges;
mobilize and strengthen group based environmental action initiatives and such other endeavors.
In order to improve self-determination, achieve greater equality, and create a shift in power relationships to the benefit of members of the oppressed communities, community practise is a strategy and a process that brings people together to discuss problems, concerns, or issues collectively. One crucial way for social work to combat the detrimental effects of environmental degradation is by helping vulnerable groups and cultures to adapt. Supporting the proactive creation of resilient communities, which is increasingly viewed as essential to climate change adaptation, would require social workers with knowledge and expertise in community practise and organisation (National Research Council, 2011). These include high levels of social connection and inclusion as well as significant community and stakeholder participation in proactive planning and participatory development.
Engagement and empowerment of the community also aid in addressing environmental vulnerabilities. They also produce significant co-benefits, such as improvements in community-based environmental infrastructure and capital, such as common property resources; increased equity in access to and sharing of benefits from natural resource use; and improved social cohesion, community participation, and physical and mental health of the community. The main ways to increase investment in social work research and practise are partnerships with grassroots and local organisations. Many of these initiatives concentrate on community-building initiatives that emphasise the active involvement, engagement, and leadership of low-income and underprivileged locals (Forsyth, 2013). An “increased capacity, voice, and influence of low-income groups and vulnerable communities and their partnerships with local governments,…benefit adaptation” (IPCC, 2014, p. 18).
The numerous social and health advantages that result from place- and community-based initiatives to improve livability and regenerate urban communities are supported by a growing amount of research and practise data. In addition to creating inhumane living conditions in urban slums, an ever-increasing migration to urban regions exposes slum dwellers to a significant threat from environmental hazards and health risks. The conditions in which these communities live and work can only be significantly changed through community-based, participatory initiatives. Dominelli (2014) strongly encourages social workers to participate in and support such initiatives, which are essentially deliberate tests of new urban and environmental technologies. At the community level, social work needs to develop a portfolio of interventions with the ability to ameliorate and mitigate environmental issues. These interventions must be evidence-based and culturally relevant.
Social action is essentially an endeavour to start appropriate reforms and adjustments to ameliorate the social and economic conditions. Social workers employ social action as a strategy to better the conditions of the general populace, promote societal welfare, address general issues, change fundamental social norms and policies that give rise to social adjustment and maladjustment issues, and alter the environment. Social workers can research, evaluate, and spread ideas for boosting political and civic participation in environmental social action.
Social workers' role in using social action for the mobilisation of people and resources to oppose unsustainable environmental exploitation and foster environmental sustainability is highlighted by the large-scale natural resource-based conflicts and movements that result from threats from capitalist interests and the overexploitation of the resources by developmental projects.
Raising individual and societal consciousness, offering assistance to one another, and better understanding people's difficulties and issues are all part of social action. They can strengthen people's capacities for negotiating their rightful share in benefits/rehabilitation and prepare and support communities suffering adverse environmental impacts for protracted and sustained agitations and movements.
There are several issues that require social action. They include
resistance to forced displacement of a community;
action for environmental rights i.e to claim/reclaim a stake in local ecosystem and its resources;
measures to seek greenhouse gas mitigation;
resistance to prevent vested interests from deviating from environmental norms/laws and procedures;
prevention/mitigation from environmental justice hazards (e.g., pollution source being located near marginalized groups) and
such other issues requiring mass mobilisation for direct action.
Corporations, municipal councils, commissions, state and federal legislative bodies and agencies, as well as private organisations, may be the focus of policy change.
The goal of advocacy is to influence decisions about public policy and the distribution of resources within political, economic, and social organisations and systems that have a direct impact on the lives of individuals. Capacity-building and empowerment, resilience-building, social innovations and social entrepreneurship, education and advocacy, and social enterprise are some potential social work strategies for supporting socially sustainable adaptation to global environmental change.
In addition to supporting the need for more pro-people policies to counter the effects of climate change, disasters, and environmental degradation, social workers are increasingly using this method of advocacy to promote widespread awareness of environmental legislation and policies that need to change. Developing shared understandings of the causes and effects of environmental deterioration as well as attitudes and expectations that are compatible with the shifting ecological realities are additional need for the construction of sustainable communities. Social workers are in a good position to use community knowledge in the areas they serve. In addition to disseminating knowledge about new possibilities and resources that surface as a result of the elimination of previous opportunities and resources, they can assist in forming understandings, values, and expectations that are responsive to ecological change.
One important aspect of social work practise is the effective use of advocacy to draw public and governmental attention to the social and human components of environmental change. Social workers utilise advocacy to form coalitions and connect with groups with similar environmental goals in order to put pressure on institutions and the government to implement environmentally friendly legislation, initiatives, and policies.
Integrated Use of Methods
All levels of practise should be seen as interrelated by social workers rather than exclusive or exclusive. They could keep honing their specific abilities in casework and treatment, group work, community organisation and practise, social action and advocacy, social research, administration, or policy. However, distinctions should be less rigid and more fluid, and all levels of practise should share knowledge with one another. The community organiser must comprehend how subjective experiences and individual agency may be used in activism, organising, and social change, whereas the case worker must comprehend the effects of sociopolitical imbalances that cause environmental stress and try to resist them.
"In this way, the profession could combat fragmentation and fully realize Mary Richmond’s vision of interdependence between casework, group work, community work, social reform, and social research in the service of our clients" (Cornell, 2006, p. 56).
The Chipko Movement
Chipko is the Mother of Movements. It began in 1970s Uttar Pradesh's Garhwal region (now in Uttarakhand). The 1973 Chipko movement was a forest conservation movement. It sparked global environmental movements. It occurred when there was hardly any environmental movement in the developing world, and its success meant that the world immediately took notice of this non-violent movement, which helped slow deforestation, exposed vested interests, increased ecological awareness, and demonstrated the significant potential of people's collective power. Chipko (which means 'to hug') became the most famous example of environmental activism and a trailblazer in mobilising forest-dwelling people to safeguard and assert their environmental rights. The people's movement protested commercial tree felling and other environmental destruction. The movement aimed to preserve not only local forest riches, but also nature's life-support system. Chipko began as a movement by local communities to reclaim their natural resources, which were being diverted to outside interests through contracts. It became the most famous environmental movement to stop green felling in the Himalayas. Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna and Shri Chandi Prasad Bhatt inspired and led the local people in this Satyagraha-based movement. Chipko's characteristic was the women's excellent cooperation in preventing contractors and the government from cutting their trees. Chipko showed how community mobilisation and organisation can fight state control. Leaders used Mahila Mangal Dals, Nav Yuvak Mangal Dals, and other village-based collectives to present a popular uprising across the region. Confrontation and social action to protest state-supported tree felling showed the power of a people's movement.
Narmada Bachao Andolan
Movement against the Sardar Sarover Dam on River Narmada is another environmental movement in India. The Narmada Bachao Andolan questions the government's mode of development. After protesting eviction, campaigners led by Medha Patkar opposed the dam's development. Incorrect state rehabilitation caused human rights groups to lead anti-dam rallies. Their demands included stopping the dam project and helping evicted residents. The movement attracted national attention when oustees (mainly tribals) mobilised and organised, and famous social workers joined Medha Patkar and Baba Amte. The Narmada Bachao Andolan encompassed multiple issues, including displacement risks and resettlement provisions, environmental impact and sustainability, financial implications of the project, forceful evictions and civil liberties, river valley planning and management, implications of the western growth model, and alternative development and appropriate technology. The movement used Satyagraha, Jal Samarpan, Rasta Roko, Gaon Bandh, Sangharsh Yatra, public meetings, protests, rallies, hunger strikes, and project blockades.
Another forest-based environmental movement in India is the Appiko Movement. Pandurang Hegde, a fiery activist and social worker, began the Appiko (to hug) campaign in Uttara Kanara, Karnataka, popularly known as the 'forest district' The government deemed the area backward and began development. In the vicinity, a pulp and paper mill, plywood industry, and hydroelectric dams sprang up. These industries overexploited forest resources, and dams flooded forest and farmland. Teak and eucalyptus plantations converted native mixed forests, drying up water sources for forest residents. Balegadde youngsters protesting teak plantations asked forest officials to cease removing the natural forest. This was rejected. Villagers launched a movement. Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna, the Chipko Movement's architect, was welcomed, and locals swore to conserve trees by hugging them. When axe-men arrived to fell the Kalase forests in September 1983, people embraced the trees, launching the Appiko movement.
The Appiko movement achieved its three goals:
Protecting current forest cover,
Replanting trees in deforested areas, and
Using forest wealth while conserving natural resources.
The initiative conserved the people's primary life sources, such as bamboo for handcrafts and medicinal trees and plants. The movement used community organising, social action, and lobbying to educate villagers in the Western Ghats about the ecological hazards presented by commercial and industrial interests to their forests, their main source of food. It used street-plays, folk music, and dance theatre on nature preservation to reach a large audience. Yakshagana, a traditional folk theatre, was utilised to explain sustainable development in the state. In addition to cultural events, campaigners launched Padayatras to reach remote villages. In 1997, Appiko activists travelled 1450 kilometres in the Western Ghats, following river catchments in Karnataka. Activists in schools and universities used slide displays and talks to raise environmental awareness among the young. Nobody controls the movement. Local groups made decisions. Decentralizing decision-making helped create local leadership. Local success boosted people's confidence. People become the change they sought, harnessing their power. The movement's financial demands were met by local individuals. This first peoples' green movement in South India, which protested tree chopping, monocultures, forest policy, and deforestation, changed the forest policy and became a paradigm for sustainable development in the country.
Silent Valley is in Palakkad, Kerala. In the 1980s, the Kundremukh project envisaged a 200 MW dam on the river Kunthipuzha. The proposed project would flood a major part of the valley's valuable rainforest and imperil endangered species. The Kerala People's Science Movement (Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad) promotes environmental awareness and scientific projects in Kerala's countryside. This NGO led the effort to stop the project. The KSSP mobilised botanists, zoologists, and economists to argue that the project would harm a rare habitat and that the required power could be generated elsewhere and by strengthening the transmission system. The group opposed the project by highlighting the ecological effects, notably the loss of millions-year-old species. The movement acknowledged Malabar's economic needs but believed the Silent Valley Project would contribute nothing to regional development. It questioned the premise that the dam's energy would aid rural Kerala, since most of it would be exported to industrialised parts of Kerala and the surrounding states. Silent Valley demonstrations centred on preserving the tropical rainforest's ecological equilibrium. "Save Silent Valley" became a public education initiative and a serious public debate. After debates, campaigns, petitions, and lobbying through the press, parliament, and expert groups, the plan of a dam in the Silent Valley was postponed, and the territory was named a national biosphere (Sethi, 1993). Gandhian nonviolence guided the movement. The protest against forest devastation also opposed ecologically unsound development.
Case studies have shown the importance of social work methods in environmental action and change, but much ground has to be covered. Also:
Creating, documenting, and sharing research about the state of the environment, environmental problems and issues, and how they affect people.
Start a process of talking, thinking, and analysing about the role and contribution of people, especially women, in protecting and managing nature and natural resources
Making people more aware of the need and importance of their participation in planning, making decisions, putting plans into action, monitoring, and evaluating the environment.
Trying to change policies and programmes about the environment so that people's rights to their natural resources are recognised. Make policies and programmes that include people's interests and roles in protecting, restoring, and managing environmental resources.
Setting up policies, projects, and programmes to take into account women's rights and the gender dimension. Before environmental schemes and programmes are put into place, people should push for gender-sensitive impact assessments to be used and put into place.
Helping the community come together around local environmental issues and problems by putting the focus on the ecofeminist ethics of care, protection, and management, especially as done by women.
"Person-in-environment" is a metaphor that has been used by social workers for many years to explain how they do their jobs. In social work, the "person-in-environment" metaphor has led to many good things. It helped social workers make case work, group work, family work, organisational work, and community work more like one profession. It showed the transactional nature of social work, which went beyond helping individuals because social workers were told to look at relationships between groups, as well as issues of oppression, exclusion, and empowerment. Practitioners now have to deal with the "Inconvenient Truth" (Gore, 2006) of climate change and other environmental threats to human life, which were not even thought of or planned for when the practise models were made. Those models may no longer be the best way to deal with the problems that today's societies and the planet as a whole face. Coates (2003) put things very clearly: “Social work has the choice of continuing to support a self-defeating social order or recreating itself to work toward a just and sustainable society” (p. 159).
The International Federation of Social Workers has asked social workers to do these things in their International Policy Statement on Globalization and the Environment.
"…recognize the importance of the natural and built environment to the social environment, to develop environmental responsibility and care for the environment in social work practice and management today and for future generations, to work with other professionals to increase our knowledge and with community groups to develop advocacy skills and strategies to work towards a healthier environment, and to ensure that environmental issues gain increased presence in social work education (2012, Section 2, paragraph 9).
So, social workers have a legal responsibility to work towards the creation of
"…a vibrant and meaningful environmental presence, which requires efforts at multiple levels, from developing a creative, multi-faceted and well-specified menu of practice theories, models and interventions, supported by research and practice evidence, to an enhanced focus on environmental practice within social work education. It also requires novel interdisciplinary partnerships and deep-rooted collaborations with local communities, where the larger environmental threats and inequities come to ground in everyday lived experience" (Kemp, 2011, p. 1198).