Medical students call for fossil fuel divestment

fossil fuel divestment

Medical students warn that the health threats from climate change and fossil fuel pollution mean medical institutions have a moral obligation to divest. Creative Commons: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier, 2011

Over one million medical students are calling on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels, warning that the dirty energy industry is a bigger threat to global health than tobacco.

In an open letter, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) said the charities have a moral obligation to drop their fossil fuel interests, amounting to almost £1.5 billion.

It warned that investments in coal, oil and gas companies, goes directly against doctors’ Hippocratic oath, taken before they begin their service:

Continued investment in the fossil fuel industry violates health workers’ obligations to do no harm and grants the industry the social licence to explore and exploit still further reserves, resulting in catastrophic global warming.

The two charities targeted in the letter are among the world’s largest funders of health research and medical aid.

The letter warns of the significant threat climate change poses for human health, including the direct impacts of frequent flooding, heatwaves and an increase in natural disasters, and indirectly by worsening food insecurity, conflict and mental health.

The student stressed that a renewable energy transition would prevent millions of deaths worldwide from cardiovascular, respiratory, and other diseases.

Such threats, they said, are comparable with the health impacts of tobacco, responsible for six million deaths every year.

The letter reads:

Thirty years ago, health professionals declared that investments in the tobacco industry violated their responsibility to protect and promote health. They triggered a wave of divestment that played a significant role in the tobacco control movement’s subsequent successes… The arguments that led the health sector to divest from tobacco provide a still more compelling mandate for divestment from fossil fuels.

The IFMSA represents future doctors in 119 countries. The letter was also endorsed by the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) and Medsin-UK and signed by medical student leaders from across the world.

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