Author Archives: Erin

About Erin

University of Calgary Master of Social Work (MSW) student passionate about building bridges between social work and environmentalism.

The justice piece

As a follow-up to my previous post on Ecology Ottawa’s city-level approach to climate change, I thought I’d share this article by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) about building urban resilience in the face of climate change, particularly through community-based approaches. I previously mentioned that 50% of the global population now lives in cities; this article reminds us that 70% of these urban inhabitants live in low- and middle-income countries.

With climate change, it is marginalized communities (across and within countries) that tend to be the first and most significantly impacted:

Slum dwellers are particularly vulnerable to climate extremes, as informal settlements are typically situated on marginal land. Their poorly insulated housing offers little protection from extremes of heat and cold, and a lack of clean water puts them at higher risk from waterborne diseases. (O’Neill, n.d.)

It is therefore imperative to have an environmental justice lens.

The article includes a number of examples of community-level responses taking place in developing countries.


Growing cities such as Manila are vulnerable to flooding and other climate-change impacts. Picture taken from:


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Ecology Ottawa

I’ve now been with Ecology Ottawa for seven weeks. As is usually the case, I don’t know where the time has gone! To provide a bit more background, Ecology Ottawa is a volunteer driven, grassroots organization that focuses on public engagement and mobilization. It provides residents with the information and tools they need to understand local environmental issues and promote environmental leadership at city hall. While the organization focuses its attention primarily on the city of Ottawa, I am learning about models of community development, organizing, and engagement that I believe are transferable to the Calgary context and that are relevant to multiple social and environmental issues. In particular, I am intrigued by Ecology Ottawa’s decentralized, distributed leadership approach and its strategic efforts to facilitate the movement of supporters up the “pyramid of engagement,” always with an eye to affecting policy changes at the municipal level. This practicum is also helping me to further clarify how environmental and social issues might be combined into an eco-social approach to social work and community development.

I very much believe in this grassroots driven, municipal-level response as it applies to climate change. For one, 50 percent of the global population now live in cities and cities are responsible for 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. More profoundly, though, the municipal level (as opposed to broader provincial or federal levels) is where the tangible aspects of lives play out on a day-to-day basis. And it is where tangible steps to reducing carbon emissions, largely related to how we plan and design our communities, can be taken. I have been thinking about this a lot as I’ve watched the tragic southern Alberta floods unfold from afar. It is municipal level realities: leadership, existing policies, processes and systems, resources, infrastructure, services, citizen participation, etc. that have shaped how this incident has played out.

As this video from the 2012 United Nations climate change conference in Doha makes clear, despite the inertia and lack of agreement at a global scale around what to do about climate change, cities can and have been playing a leadership role and are taking real steps towards climate change mitigation and adaptation. Check out this infographic that outlines some of the ways cities are tacking climate change.

To explore a particularly creative aspect of this perspective, watch this TED Talk by Ellen Dunham-Jones about retrofitting the suburbs. A huge opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions lies in “urbanizing the suburbs.” There are also important public health and affordability implications of all of this. It’s worth a watch.

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Why Ottawa?


I arrived in Ottawa on May 17th and have been at my practicum placement for five days now. I look forward to sharing pieces of the next three months with you.

I quite intentionally chose to remain in my home country for my placement; it has nonetheless been quite thrilling to be in this [relatively] new context. I feel a bit like a stranger in my own country right now, having spent the vast majority of my life so far in Calgary. I find myself feeling more alert and aware and curious….and it’s great!

So, why Ottawa?

Excerpted from my Parhad Summer Internship application:

“…I visited Ottawa in October 2012 for the Power Shift 2012 climate justice gathering. The whirlwind four-day experience included speeches, skill building opportunities, training, dialogue, strategizing, art, and music. It was awash in positive energy and many new connections were made. However, I could not help but feel isolated. I was struck by how much of the dialogue centered on Alberta and in particular, the oil sands and the Aboriginal communities most strongly impacted by their development. And yet, there were very few Albertans in attendance. Near the end of the gathering, participants congregated in regional groups. The Alberta/Saskatchewan contingent only had about 10 people, a very small showing in comparison to the other regions. This was significant. The desperate need for the forging of connections between those working towards positive social change in Alberta and those doing the same in Ottawa was overwhelmingly apparent. It was at this moment that I developed my intent to return to Ottawa for my social work practicum, partly so that I could have time to learn more about the local context and explore how needed networks might be developed. The next day, on the final day of the gathering, I serendipitously ran into an acquaintance from Calgary who told me about Ecology Ottawa and the good work they are doing in that city. Ecology Ottawa is where I have chosen to complete my summer practicum placement.

Though Ecology Ottawa focuses its efforts on the city of Ottawa, I believe it provides multiple opportunities to gain skills and insights that I can transfer to my future work in Calgary…”

More to come 🙂


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