Are we wasting our time in community services as the impacts of climate change begin to un-do our good work?

Every day at work everything I do is for the good of people. I work in the ‘back end’ of community services, facilitating this vital support work to all sorts of people. People from disadvantaged backgrounds, people dealing with family and domestic violence, people dealing with housing unaffordability, illness, and job loss. It’s important and worthwhile work, the work of equity, community building, and helping people bounce back from trauma, poverty, and the misfortunes of life that can rise to meet anyone and knock them off their feet. And yet, I can’t help but ask, am I wasting my time? How can I do this community work without engaging in the menace of climate change that hangs over all of us and do nothing about it?

With climate change comes more heat waves, more Code Reds for homelessness services, more illness and death for the most vulnerable – for people who can’t afford an air conditioner or to run one; who can’t afford to live in suburbs with street trees. More extreme weather events are destroying more homes and infrastructure than ever before.

So too, more flooding from storm surges and big rain events are threatening homes and people. Tougher farming and gardening conditions: drying land and less rainfall (alongside devastating flood events), are making it harder to grow nutritious food for all of us, or a bit of food for some self-sufficiency, or garden plants to cool our homes.

Species loss is at record levels in the planet’s history and will lead to unknown human impacts as ecosystems collapse caused by climate change and deforestation all around the world, including Australia[i]. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are being forced off their land due to the extreme weather conditions that are occurring now.[ii]

Increasing global instability from all these climate change impacts are likely to lead to civic unrest, mass human migration, and even war. The October 2018 UN IPCC[iii] report tells us we’ve got about 11 years to act before climate change becomes unstoppable and a risk to all life on earth. But many scientists criticise the IPCC reports of the last 20 or so years for being too conservative, too cautious, and for failing to include all the contributors to climate change, leading to an understatement of the risks and their immediacy[iv]. One of those risks is permafrost, which David Attenborough’s latest documentary shows is now visibly rising to the surface right now and which, when it is released, will unleash devastating amounts of the greenhouse gas, methane[v] leading to a feedback loop of warming. So the IPCC report is likely to be optimistic. I’ve personally noticed that many of their predictions in the last 20 years have proven so, with events occurring far earlier than predicted. If that trend continues, then every community we work with is in imminent danger from climate change.

And yet, as a sector, community services has been silent. As if there’s nothing they can do. Doing nothing implies that there’s either nothing wrong – there is! – or as if there’s nothing to be done – again, there is.

We have the solutions and yes, they require effort and cooperation, but that’s something humans have always been good at, and community services especially. So what do we do? We need to stop any new fossil fuel projects as a matter of urgency, increase solar and wind power generation, move to electric transport, and cease deforestation. And we need to do all of this now.

There have been small in-roads made globally, but here in Australia our environmental footprint has grown and we’re a massive fossil fuel exporter, literally creating our own demise. We have a lot to do as a nation.

If we are to achieve our mission in community services – to make people’s lives better – we need to step up as a sector and visibly and vocally stand up for climate action.

Join a rally on Friday 20 September 2019. Strike for climate action – strike for the people we serve: communities around the world.

© Palitja Moore, text, 2019, and image, School Strike 4 Climate Adelaide March 2019.

[i] Climate Reality Project

[ii] Seed Youth Indigenous Climate Justice and short film from 17:34

[iii] UN IPCC Report, October 2018

[iv] What Lies Beneath: the understatement of existential climate risk

[v] Climate Change: the facts

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