Climate Voices

Examining Climate Justice Through the Pillars of Social Work

This month's guest feature is an insightful and in-depth essay written by Taniko King-Jordan, DSW, LMSW, CDP, who is the former Director of the Bachelor of Social Work Program and Assistant Professor at the University of Indianapolis. Dr. King-Jordan has over 10 years of cross-cultural clinical and community practice experience with adolescents, young adults, and families.

Her research interests include, but are not limited to, emerging foster youth and other at-risk youth of color, equity in leadership, women of color, restorative justice, and a plethora of other social justice implications for vulnerable populations.

Intersectionality of the Climate Crisis and Racial Justice: A Social Worker's Perspective

The profession of social work has been built on the pillars of social justice. According to the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), a competency-based framework consisting of best practices includes nine competencies:

  1. Demonstrate Ethical and Professional Behavior
  2. Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice
  3. Advance Human Rights and Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice
  4. Engage in Practice-Informed Research and Research-Informed Practice
  5. Engage in Policy Practice
  6. Engage with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  7. Assess Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  8. Intervene with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities
  9. Evaluate Practice with Individuals, Families, Groups, Organizations, and Communities (CSWE, 2015)

These nine competencies are the guidelines governing the practices of the social work profession.

As such, the profession of social work seeks to examine the totality of a person, by not only acknowledging them from a person-in-environment context, but also assessing the role the environment plays in disseminating equitable outcomes. The condition of social inequity has meant that the quality of life is predicated upon race as a social construct with no biological relevance, and socio-economic sustainability (DiAngelo, 2018).

Consequently, this has also meant these hierarchical benefits have the capacity to determine the neighborhoods in which Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) can reside, and the unequivocal consumption of renewable resources. These endeavors are commonly observed in public education, health care, housing, the right to vote, the use of public facilities, court services and fair trials, and policy development. For instance, the idea of reciprocity seemingly has a negative connotation to the dominant culture and their level of fear only reinforces racial comfort based on persistent behaviors. Being uncomfortable is not prioritized and their level of entitlement increases in order to maintain white advancement.

Environmental Justice and BIPOC Neighborhoods

This has placed an emphasis on understanding environmental justice from the lens of BIPOC in order to understand the disproportionate impacts of anti-racism and exclusion for communities of color and the intersections of their identity formation. Southbank Centre (2016) suggests that in order to truly embrace the multiple identities of an individual, you must also reimagine the space and structures that mold those experiences. Often this cannot occur in silos. The commitment to embracing diversity and difference has shifted based on one's zip code allocation. Unfortunately, this has fundamentally altered the collective responsibilities that persist across the different levels of the ecosystem.

These structural barriers must be dismantled in order to integrate effective practices that promote social, political, and environmental justice. We have all witnessed grave concerns and foreseeable negative outcomes for BIPOC. This is evident in ongoing police brutality and its connectivity to environmental justice, or lack thereof. We must acknowledge systemic and structural violence and work to dismantle it from the root in order to integrate effective practices that promote social, political, and environmental justice.

The CSWE has operationalized the code of ethics specific to the National Association of Social Work's commitment to service, social justice, dignity and worth of a person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence (NASW, 2020).

These ethical principles are central to the impact work we are empowered to see through as helping professionals. Therefore, we must not cope within a broken structure that maintains environmental fallacies of injustice, but rather shift the perspective by developing thought partners to critically analyze, evaluate, and measure sustainable outcomes that attest to mental and physical wellness, and cultural needs; apply these findings in order to improve and practice environmental justice across the levels of the ecosystem; recognize the types of environmental settings and evaluate them as an effort to reduce harm and establish effective practices; assess for practice, resources, and process vulnerabilities in order to operationalize best practices in both natural and built environmental settings (King-Jordan & Gill, 2021; CSWE, 2020).

The pillars of justice are critical to improving the social conditions of BIPOC

Current limitations impede the viability and protections of the environment, which surrounds us, and in order to foster environmental change will necessitate a call to action that purports the advancement of inclusion, diversity, difference, and culture. Undoubtedly, honest and critical self-reflection and action will move the needle towards improving the environmental conditions for BIPOC. However, once you become nothing in someone's eyes you become invisible (The Breakfast Club Power, 2016). Across the spectrum BIPOC Matter! The ideology of a colorblind society is the epitome of violence that only perpetuates racism, white supremacy, privilege, and power. Additionally, the colorblinded approach, whether well intended or unconscious, exhibits a failure to acknowledge differences; hence making it more challenging to address unconscious bias on the premise of race.

Council on Social Work Education. (2020). Curricular Guide for Environmental Justice.
Retrieved from:

DiAngelo, R. (2018). White Fragility: Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism?. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Code of ethic of the National

Association of social workers.

King-Jordan, T, & Gill, K. (Summer 2021). Dismantling privilege and white supremacy in social work education. Advances in Social Work, 21(2/3). DOI: 10.18060/24088

The Breakfast Club Power [Video]. Dick Gregory Full Interview. (March 28, 2016). Dick Gregory [Video]. YouTube

Southbank Centre [Video]. Kimberle' Crenshaw-on Intersectionality-Keynote WOW 2016. (March 14, 2016). Kimberle' Crenshaw-on Intersectionality [Video]. YouTube