May 18, 2022
(HOUSTON, TX) - MSW Student and Community Organizer Amber England helped to achieve a major climate justice win in getting American International Group Inc. (AIG) to commit to zero net emissions company-wide, including no longer providing underwriting and investments for fossil fuel exploration projects.
We spoke with Amber to learn more about her role in achieving this significant corporate commitment to reducing climate change and why social workers need to be at the forefront of climate justice.
Name: Amber England
Program and Expected Graduation from the GCSW: MSW 2022
Congrats on scoring a major win for climate justice. How did you find yourself involved in this project that sought to end AIG's practice of providing insurance to projects causing climate damage?
I worked as a community organizer for Texas Campaign for the Environment. I was allowed to work on a special project with Public Citizen and Insure Our Future to target big insurance companies that are major insurers and investors of oil and gas projects.
AIG is facing a recruitment crisis as their employee base is nearing retirement, and they depend on new faces to fill opening positions. AIG heavily recruits from college campuses, including the University of Houston, which puts college students at a unique advantage to advocate for potential employers to adopt climate-focused policies.
While working on this project, I participated in classic climate activist digging. During the Fall 2022 semester, I attended a career fair with AIG and pretended to be interested in working with the company. When I met with the recruiter, I asked about their lack of climate policies. Unlike many of its insurance peers, AIG did not have policies or guidelines to phase out its fossil fuel underwriting and investments. I was directed to speak with AIG's sustainability team but could not talk directly, as they ignored my many attempts to meet with them.
I also facilitated application workshops with members of local climate activist groups, including Texas Campaign for the Environment, Sunrise Houston, and Houston Youth Climate Strike. We flooded AIG's career portal with applications that called out the company for their lack of climate policies and disregard for indigenous rights and told AIG that we wouldn't work for their company unless AIG stopped insuring new oil and gas projects.
In March, AIG committed to stopping insuring new coal, tar sands, and Arctic energy exploration projects. Ending support for coal expansion projects is a significant win for climate justice, but AIG must extend this commitment to all fossil fuels to be a true champion of climate justice.
Increasingly climate justice is a topic discussed alongside climate change. Why do you think social workers are needed to establish climate justice?
Social workers, especially those who participate in macro practice, have a unique skill set that allows us to view social issues through a macro lens and identify the interconnected systems that affect social injustices. We know that social problems are complex, and we need to address the root of the problem rather than working toward solutions that only address parts of the problem. An analogy that I often reference is that if your bathtub is overflowing, the first thing you do isn't grab a mop but turn off the tap. We must transition away from fossil fuels, which means we must end all new fossil fuel projects, begin phasing out current fossil fuel projects, and implement green energy initiatives like wind and solar.
We are in our first year back in person and on campus. What has been a highlight of your time at the GCSW thus far?
The highlight of my time at the GCSW thus far has been meeting other abolitionists. I chose to pursue my MSW at the GCSW because Dean Alan Detlaff is a vocal abolitionist. Another reason I chose the GCSW is because the college offered abolitionist courses and various focused learning opportunities. The abolition framework is new to the GCSW, and the college is still working toward making the program reflect those values. Still, it has been a pleasure to get to know comrades fighting to end the prison industrial complex, the child welfare system, and capitalism and working toward liberation for all.
Why do you believe it is the right time for climate justice and social work?
It is the right time for climate justice and social work because we are already seeing the catastrophic effects of climate change, and we are not doing nearly enough to combat the threat of our dying planet. Social workers fight against various social injustices, but if we do not fight for the preservation of our world, our work toward liberation will be cut short.
The GCSW aims to achieve social justice. How do you think climate justice fits into this vision?
The catastrophic effects of climate change will affect everything and everyone but will (and already has) undeniably hit impoverished Black and Brown communities the hardest. If we claim to achieve social justice at every level, we must also advocate for climate justice and ensure our practices and policies reflect that. This means the GCSW must remove Cheniere Energy (an LNG company) from the internship agencies available for students to complete their field education. In addition to Cheniere Energy not aligning with social work values, the company received a $2.2 million fine over a dangerous gas leak from its Sabine Pass LNG facility in 2018. The cause of the leak has been attributed to incorrect operations. The company was aware that the tank design was inadequate and allowed it to operate anyway. Allowing social work students to complete their field education with a company that has complete disregard for community safety is unacceptable. We must do better.
Who is someone that inspires you?
Someone who inspires me is Octavia Butler. She is the author of Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. These post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels depict a futuristic dystopia and comment on climate change and social inequality. Butler wrote the books in the 1990s, and the storyline begins in 2024. The storyline portrays a world eerily similar to the present with rampant inequality and climate disasters. Butler was asked if she believed we would face the same troubles depicted in her novels, and she responded, "I didn't make up the problems. All I did was look around at the problems we're neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters." When asked what the answer to ending the suffering in the world is, Butler shared, "… there's no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There's no magic bullet. Instead, there are thousands of answers–at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be."
What do you aim to do once your graduate?
When I graduate, I hope to work for a progressive organization that reflects my values in climate justice, abolition, and liberation. I'm interested in pursuing roles in organizing, program coordination, and community engagement.