Medical Open Letter: Doctors Want Change
Medical communities the world over recognise the huge risks associated with the ongoing use of fossil fuels and the impacts of climate change. Just recently, the British Medical Association committed to divest from fossil fuels.
Here in Australia, groups like Doctors for the Environment (DEA) and the Australian Medical Student Association (AMSA) are calling on campus global health groups, hospitals and other medical associations to follow suite.
This year, Fossil Free Melbourne University is partnering with DEA UniMelb to show the University of Melbourne that the medical community supports University divestment from fossil fuels. Medical students will be collecting signatures from Medical Faculty staff, their fellow medical students and staff of medical research institutes affiliated to the University of Melbourne for an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor and University Council calling on them to divest to safeguard public health.
Check out the letter below. If you are a medical student, staff member or you work at a medical research institute that is affiliated to the University of Melbourne, please considering signing onto the open letter. Your signature will remain confidential until the letter is delivered to the Vice-Chancellor and University Council later this year.
If you would like to sign on, please contact Ozge Tanrikut at email@example.com.
An Open Letter to the University of Melbourne from members of its health care and health sciences community
In full support of Fossil Free Melbourne University, and in recognition of the consequences of inaction in the face of climate change, we, the undersigned, call on the University to:
- Investigate and disclose its investments in companies whose primary business is the exploration, extraction, processing and transportation of fossil fuels;
- Stop any new investments in these companies;
- Develop a plan to end its investments in the fossil fuel sector within 5 years, with ongoing transparency of its investments.
As members of a world-leading community of health researchers, educators, advocates, professionals and students, we believe that it is crucial for the integrity of our work that the institutions which support us do not undermine our projects towards achieving better health through short-sighted investments in fossil fuels. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned about the potentially devastating social, economic and health outcomes of climate change, should it proceed unchecked. We believe that it is immoral to enable environmentally unsustainable processes, like fossil fuel extraction and distribution, to continue to exacerbate climate change when we are fully aware of the gravity of the risks.
Our work in the health sciences, in public health, and in the frontline of patient-centred health care is constituted by a diverse variety of projects, but at some level we are all concerned with improving human health in a broad, holistic sense. This is an overarching project that climate change threatens to undermine in a fundamental way. It undercuts many of the discoveries we have made, and much of the care we are able to provide. In Australia, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of more heat-waves, which threaten vulnerable populations in our society like the young, the old and the already ill. We are likely to see an increase in extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, storms and bushfires which have the potential to devastate the health of communities directly as well as the health infrastructure that supports them. Climate change also threatens to shift the profile of infectious diseases, including food-borne, water-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue fever and Ross River fever, which are currently confined only to northern parts of Queensland.
The fifth Annual Report released by the IPCC this year reaffirms the science and the data underlying anthropogenic climate change. The best estimate of warming by 2100 is still 4°C, in consensus with the International Energy Agency and the World Bank, but the predicted rates of sea-level rise are now even more rapid.
Beyond our own borders, the health implications of these impacts are huge for more vulnerable countries. Super-typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 will be but one in a series of extreme weather events as climate change alters the volatility of our weather systems. Beyond the calculations of death-tolls and economic costs, there emerges a humanitarian crisis with millions displaced without food, shelter or water and vulnerable to disease. It is not surprising that the Philippines ranks 9th on Maplecroft's Climate Change Vulnerability Index, along with many other mid-latitude countries whose economic status, resource security and available infrastructure mean that the immediate threats of climate change are amplified by magnitudes through the potential costs to lives and communities. These matters of global health are of the utmost urgency.
However, when fossil fuel investments continue to be profitable, it is because investors and the fossil-fuel industry continue to ignore climate change and to bet against it. They continue to act as though burning fossil fuels is sustainable and that carbon exploration will allow for infinite growth, even though we know that most of the fossil fuels we already have access to is unburnable. We do not want to be complicit in such a ludicrous and short-sighted bet, and nor will we be satisfied with being part of institutions who are.
We urge the University not only to honour the commitments it has already made with regards to environmental problems, but to be a leader in acting to recognise the imminence and severity of climate change. We ask that the University divest its financial assets that contribute directly to the success of fossil fuel companies. We believe that the security of investments in the fossil fuel industry is not one that can or should be sustained, and that symbolically and economically meaningful actions such as divestment will bring us many steps closer towards ending our reliance on fossil fuels.