Disasters, Climate Change, & Social Work

Social work and

Chat transcript

For this #MacroSW chat, we will be talking about disasters, climate change, and social work. The evidence is clear that there is a link between climate change and extreme weather events, resulting in increased frequency and impact of disasters, including tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, and drought. Because vulnerable populations are at greatest risk for suffering the most significant losses after a disaster, social workers should play a vital role in disaster mitigation, relief, recovery and rebuilding.

The following principles of sustainable disaster recovery can be a helpful guideline for social workers: (1) Restore, maintain and enhance quality of life; (2) Promote social equity (intra-generational justice); (3) Promote inter-generational justice; (4) Address environmental concerns; and (5) Facilitate public participation. Though social workers tend to focus on mental health and trauma after a disaster, these principles focus on macro practice solutions and thus there is a need for social workers to be more explicitly involved in community disaster practice. In addition, the recovery and rebuilding period is often forgotten in the era of the CNN effect when we lose sight of issues when they leave our screens. Consider that support is still needed for communities recovering from Hurricane Maria which happened 2 years ago.

Chat Questions

Q1: In what ways are disasters and climate change relevant to social workers?

Q2: Who are the people that are most vulnerable in disasters?

Q3: Who are the key actors in disaster recovery?

Q4: What are the barriers to equitable disaster recovery?

Q5: What can social workers do to mitigate disasters before they happen?


Kirchgaessner, S. (2015, June 18). Pope’s climate change encyclical tells rich nations: Pay your debt to the poor. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/18/popes-climate-change-encyclical-calls-on-rich-nations-to-pay-social-debt

Klein, N. (2014). This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Policy Statement on Sustainability, Climate Change and Natural Disasters. International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) https://www.iassw-aiets.org/sustainability-climate-change-disaster-intervention-committee/

Svistova, J. and Pyles, L. (2018). Production of Disaster and Recovery in Post-Earthquake Haiti: Disaster Industrial Complex. Routledge.

Hosted by Chat Contributor, Alyssa Lotmore, LMSW – @AlyssaLotmore


Alyssa is employed at the University at Albany’s School of Social Welfare, where she earned her BSW and MSW degrees. In addition to her main role working with alumni, she has been co-hosting The Social Workers Radio Talk Show on the University’s FM radio station (WCBD 90.9 FM) since 2013 (Twitter – @socialworkersfm; website – http://thesocialworkersradiotalkshow.simplecast.fm/). Alyssa created the course Media Savvy Social Work, which allows students hands-on practice in using the medium of radio for advocacy. She has given multiple presentations on the topic, including at the National Association of Social Workers National Conference in Washington, DC. Through all of her projects, her focus is on seeing the public as client, and using different forms of media to reach individuals who may never has considered seeing or using a social worker. As social work professionals, she believes that we need to be media savvy in sharing our expertise and raising awareness about issues that we care about.



Guest Expert, Loretta Pyles – @llpyles


Loretta Pyles, PhD, is Professor at the School of Social Welfare at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is also a meditation and yoga teacher, workshop leader, organizational consultant, and activist. The 3rd edition of her book, Progressive Community Organizing: Transformative Practice in a Globalizing World will be published by Routledge Press in 2020.

Her most recent book is Healing Justice: Holistic Self-Care for Change Makers (Oxford University Press, 2018). Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the focus of her research, writing, and community work has been on the areas of disasters, violence against women, crisis/trauma, racial/economic/gender/environmental justice, and body-mind-spirit practice.

Listen to this week’s podcast!

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