Create Social Responses to a Changing Environment

2021 Blueprint of Federal Social Policy Priorities: Recommendations to the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress

Grand challenges for social work

Health and medical experts agree — climate change is one of the greatest threats to human health, mental health and societal well-being that the world has ever faced. Climate impacts — from hurricanes and wildfires to sea level rise and drought – are affecting the health and safety of millions of people in the U.S., and threatening the air, water, food, and shelter we depend on for our survival. The health and mental health impacts of climate change and climate pollution also damage our economy. The toll on our health and economy continues to rise as we delay action.

Climate change is exacerbating stark and persistent health inequities. Children and pregnant women, economically fragile individuals, older adults, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, communities of color, Indigenous people and tribal communities, immigrants, the unsheltered, outdoor workers, and communities affected by a history of disinvestment and systemic racism are disproportionately harmed by climate pollution and climate change.

NASW calls on national leaders to:

  • Declare the climate crisis a health emergency and elevate it as a top priority of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and establish an Office of Climate and Health Equity in the Secretary’s office.
  • Integrate health, mental health and health equity in all climate policies across the federal government.
  • Pass Environmental Justice for All Act (S. 4401/H.R. 5986 in 116th Congress) or similar legislation to address the disproportionate adverse human health or environmental effects of federal laws or programs on communities of color, low-income communities, or tribal and indigenous communities.
  • Invest in the infrastructure needed to enable individuals and communities to be climate-ready and mentally resilient, including but not limited to the Center for Disease Control’s Climate and Health Program.
  • Re-enter the United States in the Paris Agreement and enact ambitious measures to advance the agreement’s goals of limiting global warming, including through dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Ensure that COVID-19 economic recovery efforts include measures aimed at shifting the US economy away from reliance on fossil fuels and toward cleaner sources of energy.
  • Reverse regulatory rollbacks and adopt robust protections against environmental harms.