Kochi, India Summer 2016

All above photos were taken by Nicole Mattocks

Environmental social work practice: A global perspective

Student: Nicole Mattocks

UMB social work student, Nicole Mattocks, visited Kochi, India for two weeks to gather information about the environmental challenges Indians currently face, as well as the solutions social workers are engaged in to address these challenges. Her work was part of a larger project to assist her mentor, Dr. Caroline Burry of the School of Social Work, in designing, developing, and implementing an environmental social work course that will be taught synchronously at both the University of Maryland and Rajagiri College of Social Services in India. During her time in Kochi, Nicole learned as much as she could about Indian social workers’ perspectives, attitudes, and actions related to the environment to ensure that the course will be equally as relevant to Indian and American students. She conducted a needs assessment and interviewed numerous faculty, students, and staff at Rajagiri, as well as staff at local environmental agencies. She also traveled around the area to observe the environmental conditions of the local community.

"In India, the waste appears to be relatively equally distributed across the landscape. In contrast, in the U.S., our waste, industry, and environmental degradation are unequally distributed to rural, low-income, or minority communities so that the rest of us do not have to see the damage we are doing every day. Through my interviews with faculty, staff and students, I learned that Indians believe in climate change. They do not have to be convinced that humans are damaging the environment and causing global warming because they face the consequences of this damage every day. Their wet seasons are drying up, air and water quality are bordering on deplorable, electricity flashes off and on throughout the day, and trash is as ubiquitous as people. It does not take much to convince an Indian that we are facing a global environmental crisis because they see the signs every day. In the U.S., often only the most vulnerable and disenfranchised groups suffer the consequences of environmental degradation, and this disproportionate impact may be perpetuating the discourse that climate change is either made up or not a high priority. Those who are not directly impacted by environmental crises have the luxury to choose to believe in climate change or tout is as conspiracy, and these non-believers tend to hold a lot of power in this country.

So how will this new perspective contribute to my professional development as an environmental social worker and researcher as well as my growth as an individual? First and foremost, I have begun to view environmental issues on a global rather than local scale. I have started to consider the ripple effects that every decision and behavior of mine have on animals, the environment, and other humans. Although I have always been concerned with how my actions affect nature, I have not always considered how my choices impact human beings across the globe. I plan to incorporate this new global perspective into my research agenda. I have decided to shift my dissertation topic to a focus on environmental justice through an examination of the disproportionate impact of environmental policies on disenfranchised populations."