Abstract: Social Work, Climate Mitigation, and the Transition Away from Fossil Fuels (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Social Work, Climate Mitigation, and the Transition Away from Fossil Fuels

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Colleen Cummings Melton, MSW, PhD Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Lisa Reyes Mason, PhD, MSW, Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Andrea Swallow, MSW Student, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background and Purpose: Climate change is a pressing area for social work research, education, and practice. Both adaptation to climate change and mitigation of its human causes are urgently needed. Social workers can serve vital roles in these efforts in order to protect human well-being and restore planetary health. One critical mitigation strategy is to transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. Social work skills of assessment, engagement, program development, organizing, and advocacy are especially salient for this energy transition. To inform future social work engagement in this area, this scoping review explored the extent and nature of specific efforts to transition away from fossil fuels in the social work literature. Whereas prior scoping reviews at the nexus of social work and global environmental change have found that studies emphasize problem description or adaptation, this review focuses on practical, applied solutions for mitigating climate change.

Methods: Authors used the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses extension for Scoping Reviews (PRISMA-ScR) to create the study protocol and reporting strategies. In consultation with a university librarian, a comprehensive search string was developed, and seven academic databases were searched. Inclusion criteria were: 1) published on or since January 1, 2005; 2) is social work literature; 3) examines at least one topic related to the transition away from fossil fuels; and 4) describes, examines, or evaluates a specific form of practice for the transition away from fossil fuels that occurred or is occurring. Authors screened 2,011 titles and abstracts for inclusion, and 640 articles were reviewed in full. Of these, 25 articles met study criteria and were included for data extraction and analysis.

Results: Practices to transition away from fossil fuels included 48% of articles addressing energy at home (e.g., alternative cookstoves, solar lamps, reducing energy generally), 28% describing community organizing efforts (e.g., transition towns, traditional neighborhood developments, community food systems), and 16% focusing on policy change (e.g., United Nations initiatives and federal/state policies). Practice location spanned 34 countries, with the two most frequent being the U.S. (36%) and India (28%). Most practices focused on individuals or households as the target system for change (64%). However, the scale at which practices were implemented was more frequently at higher system levels such as neighborhood or village (16%), more than one neighborhood or village (12%), city or county (12%), more than one city or county (12%), nation (16%) or more than one nation (12%). Analyzing study design found that 48% of articles were research studies, including quantitative (16%), qualitative (16%), mixed methods (12%), and policy analysis (4%).

Conclusion and Implications: Social workers are involved in the transition away from fossil fuels at individual, community, and policy levels. While practices are occurring at multiple scales, the target of change is often individual or household behavior rather than systemic, structural change. Findings illuminate needs and opportunities for further social work engagement in efforts to promote policies, social interventions, and community action in the transition away from fossil fuels.