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Advocating for health

The fossil fuel divestment campaign is an example of health professional engagement in reducing the structural violence of climate change.
Fossil fuels have a very direct and seriously scary effect on health. We’re already seeing the effects through all the emissions that get released into our air that we breathe on a daily basis. The way we currently generate energy results in heart disease, asthma, COPD; all kinds of diseases. Altogether we are talking about six months of life from every single one of us including me and you, quite a high price to pay for a bit of cheap fuel. I still am quite nervous about how we will be affected by climate change particularly as we don’t seem to be doing enough. As a future doctor I feel I have a duty to help protect the health of current and future generations.
Everyone agrees that we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in transition to a low carbon economy. Even the most conservative governments agree to limit global warming to 2 degree Celsius and to aim for 1.5. Based on the evidence we are not acting fast enough. And the question is why?
Once you know that the major fossil fuel companies have more than five times what it is at all safe to burn, to give us a chance to have a stable climate, then you know what’s got to be done. You have to try and keep at least 80% of that reserves in the ground. I am a public health researcher. I am a health economist. I am a final year medical student. I am a dietician. I am an environmental campaigner. I am a junior doctor. I am a nurse. And were calling on health institutions to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies to protect global health. Fossil free health is a group started by Medact and healthy planet UK .
It was a small group of health students and health professionals who really wanted to kick start the conversation around divestment within the UK health community. We started off researching what the current investments were, current policies and who we might be able to influence. And we wrote a report called “Unhealthy Investments” which tries to make the case for divestment. Divestment is a political strategy that is trying to stigmatise the fossil fuel industry, because they have shown themselves incapable of dealing with this crisis. It’s been used in the past as a strategy by the health profession against tobacco, and the tobacco industry, because it does not really make sense for organizations supposed to promote health to be investing in tobacco.
In the same way by shifting our money and our investments away from fossil fuels, we basically can see a whole load of health co-benefits. Leading health experts from same side as faith and business leaders, as well as cities and councils across the globe.
Internationally we’re linked up with other grassroots groups and health organizations also calling for divestment. Everybody’s got their day job, as it works. If one’s at a hospital, your job is to treat the people that the ambulance brings to the door but we’re also all citizens of our various communities and we have to take responsibility for those institutions behaving ethically in ways that really matter.
One of the campaigns that Medact is involved in is the campaign to divest from fossil fuels. Now is the time for us to stand up and be heard. We held quite a few meetings and skype calls, we lobbied investment committees, we went to climate demonstrations and we got out in the streets as part of the fastest growing divestment movement in history.
We had a big win with the British Medical Association voting at their annual conference to divest. They were followed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Canadian Medical Association to date. But this really is just the start. We want to see UK health institutions like the Faculty of Public Health, the Medical and Nursing Royal Colleges and global health charities using their weight to challenge the power and the social license of the fossil fuel industry. Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Do no harm Divest health

In this course we have considered many ways that health professionals can improve population health by promoting policies that reduce the structural violence that undermines basic needs.

To address the health threats that climate change poses, healthcare practitioners must understand the links between environment, health and lifestyle, which we have discussed. There are also considerable health benefits to reducing carbon emissions.

This film documents one example of this: the Fossil Free Health campaign which uses the respect and influence that health professionals enjoy to convince health organisations to withdraw financial investments (i.e. ‘divest’) from fossil fuel companies. The campaign has persuaded the British Medical Association (2014) and the World Medical Association (2016) to call on their members and health organisations worldwide to divest from fossil fuels, and reinvest in organisations upholding environmental principles in order to benefit human health in the short term and in the decades to come.

“We should push our own organisations to divest from fossil fuel industries completely and as quickly as possible, reinvest in renewable energy sources, and move to “renewable” energy suppliers.” – Editorial, British Medical Journal, 26th March 2014

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Global Health, Conflict and Violence

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