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Humans are part of, and dependent on, the web of life on Earth. Accordingly, the necessary human responsibility is to safeguard, an not to harm, the continuity and delicate balance of species lineages, ecosystems, and other complex interconnected systems that life on Earth depends on.
Currently, however, we are witnessing and ourselves embedded in massive planetary scale socio-environmental problems that are caused by human activity, such as the climate crisis, acidification of oceans, biodiversity loss and species extinction. While the scale of the ongoing ecological changes is so vast and fast-moving that it is difficult to fully conceive, there is no doubt that the changes have already both deepened and caused new forms of social, environmental, and ecological injustice and inequality.
Caused largely by extractivist overconsumption of natural resources and conjoined with the lifestyles and production and consumption patterns boosting them, the current ecological crises severely endanger the continuity of human and other forms of life on Earth. While this alone challenges the meaningfulness and ethical justification of extractive and consumerist relationship to ‘nature’, it also cuts the ground from under social work’s mission to support and protect those vulnerable and marginalised. Besides traditional service user groups, vulnerability now also concerns future generations and other than human beings. At the same time, the highly nationalistic character of existing service structures notwithstanding, in an interdependent world social work’s above stated mission leaves no ethical grounds to dismiss the distress of those lacking citizenship statuses, or those bearing the brunt of global environmental problems far away from one’s own location.
Recognising that ecological sustainability is the precondition for economic and social sustainability, even though difficult to achieve without them, ecosocial work strives to contribute towards a profound and fair sustainability (/ecosocial/ green) transition, as well as widespread adoption of an ecosocial paradigm in social work and societies at large. However, as modern social work stems largely from the same anthropocentric and modernist world view as the current environmental problems, this requires in-depth rethinking and renewal of social work as a multifarious field in itself. In other words, social work must become a transformed discipline, profession, and movement. Steps towards this direction are taken, among other things, by critically examining, questioning, and updating social work’s knowledge and value bases, institutional structures, and modes of work, including what kind of notions of good life and wellbeing social work promotes and beliefs in, for whom, and how.
At this historical moment, social work in general and ecosocial and related forms of work particularly, is in the process of reconfiguring its relationship to other than human beings and the planetary limits of existence. While there is clearly a need for a comprehensive systemic renewal, the ecosocial work has proceeded mostly from within the system, developing niches of fairer and more sustainable everyday practices, income earning possibilities, relationships, and wellbeing. On one hand, ecosocial practices recognize and utilize the healing power of the natural environment and animal companions, such as in various forms of nature and/ or animal assisted care. On the other hand, various activities are organised around re- and upcycling practices so that they both provide sustainable income earning opportunities and promote and enable resource sparing ways of life. Likewise, sustainable local food production provides multiple opportunities to work on both social and environmental issues, for example, through community gardening or community assisted forms of agriculture.
At any rate, the ecosocial starting point is that even global change is made locally and that also social work clients and people with lesser resources must have the right and opportunities to sustainable choices and lifestyles. Furthermore, noting the massive social and cultural challenge to adapt human needs and wants (of especially the over-consuming section of humanity) to the planetary boundaries, social work, being specialised in promoting change in the lives of individuals and communities, has in principle useful know-how to apply. Among other things, this may include supporting the emotional and other processes that people need to go through when changing their lifestyles, organising meaningful sustainable living, care, support, and recreational systems locally, and work for equality, diversity, just transition and societal peace. At the same time, it is important to learn and embed more respectful and collaborative ways to relate with and be part of the web of life across the micro, meso and macro levels of societal life.
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