From dissent to authoritarianism: What role for social work in confronting the climate crisis?


  • Joe Whelan School of Social Work and Social Policy, The University of Dublin, Trinity College.



Climate, climate justice, social justice, dissent, social work, social policy, welfare states.


INTRODUCTION: As the environmental crisis deepens and the effects begin to emerge in the form of disruptive and destructive climate events, more nation-states have ostensibly committed to carbon net zero by 2050. Achieving this target will require a major reconstitution of economies, societies and, thus, the lived realties of peoples. This reconstitution or shift will need to occur most forcibly and rapidly in the developed economies of the global north whom, since about 1850, have been responsible for approximately 92% of surplus global emissions. Social policies, therefore, will need to be reworked and reimagined so that, in practice, they are aligned with “planetary boundaries”. Recent geopolitical summits, such as COP 26, have, arguably, resulted in lacklustre and vague commitments rather than any serious attempts at creating agreement on how to reconstitute the economies of the global north. Moreover, a model of economy predicated on continuous, and exponential growth and thus the continued metabolization of the natural environment, still appears immovable despite the threat it poses.

APPROACH, ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION: It is against the backdrop of the global context described above that two questions are posed. The first is concerned with creating a focus for social work and asks: “What sustainable social policies should social work align with?”. The answer to this is presented as a means of progressing the task of social work in the context of climate justice. The second question builds on the answer to the first and asks, “Does arriving at an adequate response require dissent?”

Author Biography

Joe Whelan, School of Social Work and Social Policy, The University of Dublin, Trinity College.

Dr Joe Whelan is a Assistant Professor of Social Work at Trinity College Dublin. He previously worked in the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork. Joe is an active social researcher with a developing track record of publishing in international, peer-reviewed, scholarly journals. Joe's main area of research interest focuses on exploring the nexus of work and welfare. He is particularly interested in exploring and understanding lived experiences in the context of welfare recipiency, focusing on the processes and effects of welfare conditionality. Joe has recently published a monograph with a further one one on the way. The first of these explores the concept of social deservingness from antiquity to the present day and the second, which will be published in April 2022, offers an insight into lived experiences in the context of the Irish welfare state.


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How to Cite

Whelan, J. (2022). From dissent to authoritarianism: What role for social work in confronting the climate crisis?. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 34(3), 21–33.



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