One of Australia’s leading social workers has emphasised the intersection of social work and environmentalism for this year’s World Social Work day.
Audiences left Storey Hall thinking about how their responsibilities affect environmental justice after RMIT’s public Social Work Outrage! lecture.
Social workers gathered to celebrate social work’s contribution to society, and heard a keynote presentation from human rights advocate and environmentalist Alex Bhathal.
Bhathal, who has worked with youth and families for 28 years and is active in the global climate justice movement, delivered a crucial insight into the various ways social work and environmentalism meet.
Pulling case studies from the 1950s Maralinga nuclear tests, the pollution of the Latrobe Valley fires, and lead poisoning in Cairns, she highlighted how these disasters impacted the wellbeing of communities.
“There is an exploitation that arises from structural disadvantage, and this damages individual lives and communities,” she said.
But the convergence of social work and environmentalism also provides solutions, Bhathal said.
“The key to finding a path to healing and community resilience is through our social work and community development.”
“This nexus between social work’s core professional responsibilities and the environment can create justice and a way to find sustainability,” she said.
Arriving at climate change – an issue that will “threaten the poorest and hardest” – Bhathal also encouraged social workers to “go green” as part of their practice.
According to Bhathal, social workers being closest to the people who are most exploited meant they could lead the charge in tackling climate change head-on, more than other professions in areas like health, engineering or law.
“It is our last chance as a species to take control back of our destinies, by embedding the environment in everything,” she said.
“We can't have community sustainability without environmental sustainability.”
Story: Jennifer Park