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Fossil fuels are the new tobacco when it comes to health risk

As future doctors we call on the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to remove their investments from fossil fuel companies. We share a responsibility to our future patients to address unmitigated climate change – described as “the biggest health threat of the 21st century” – and to advocate for a transition to a healthier, more sustainable economy. The British Medical Association has already divested and many other medical and health organisations are following suit. 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.

Group representing 1m medical students backs fossil fuel divestment

Of currently listed fossil fuel reserves 80% must remain unburned to keep surface temperature warming below 2C above pre-industrial levels. Climate change threatens health both directly through frequent flooding, heatwaves and natural disasters, and indirectly by worsening food insecurity, conflict and mental health. Fossil fuels also directly harm workers and local communities by toxic exposures, air pollution and local environmental degradation.

A transition to renewable energy generation and low-carbon, active transport would prevent millions of deaths worldwide from cardiovascular, respiratory, and other diseases.

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 threat to public health posed by fossil fuels is even greater, but fossil fuel companies – just like the tobacco industry – continue to fund the subversion of scientific research into climate change and legislation directed at its mitigation. The arguments that led the health sector to divest from tobacco provide a still more compelling mandate for divestment from fossil fuels.

We call on the Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation to divest from the fossil fuel industry and show the leadership we, as future health professionals, need to bring about a healthier, more sustainable economy.

Lucas Scherdel University College London and national director, Medsin UK
James Lawler University of Newcastle and president, Australian Medical Students’ Association
Agostinho Sousa President, International Federation of Medical Students Associations
Alice McGushin University of Tasmania
Karen Zhang Monash University
Natasha Abeysekera University of Tasmania
Paul Thuesen University of Wollongong
Suleman Atique Taipei Medical University
Amanda Zhou UNSW
Maud Taylor Adelaide University
Bryan Tan Monash University
Torunn Hjøllo University of Bergen
Vijendra Ingole Umea University
Nathan Cantley Queen’s University Belfast
Mustafa Uğur Özel Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University
Clarissa Soh UWA and Code Green officer, WAMSS
Steve Pan University of Notre Dame
Thomas Luckman University of Tasmania
Imtiaz Hafiz University of Dhaka
Molly Wilkinson University Notre Dame
Charlotte Holm-Hansen University of Copenhagen
Pool Aguilar León Antenor Orrego Private University
Georgia Diebold UNSW
Matteo Dameri Genova University
Jon Herriot University of Saskatchewan
Katelyn Tadd University of Melbourne
Garbrielle Fernandez University of Queensland
Isabelle Bruneau Université de Montréal
Carmen Hayward Flinders University
Claudel Petrin-Desrosiers University of Montreal
Robin Dru St George’s, University of London
Eleanor Dow University of Edinburgh and national coordinator, Healthy Planet UK
Madeleine Payne University of Edinburgh
Ryan Forrest University of Edinburgh
Alexander Lewis Wade University of Edinburgh
Roshni Patel University College London
Cameron Stocks Barts
Dr G S Mead
Dr Jo Veltman
Marcus Hollyer University of Edinburgh
Colin Irving University of Edinburgh
Peter Eves Edinburgh
Trabelsi Souha FMT
Racha Tohme University of Balamand
Wenzhen Zuo Université de Montréal and national coordinator of global health, Ifmsa-QC
Anneleen Boel Ghent University
Kelly Lau McGill University
Shang-Jung Hsieh National Yang-Ming University
Camille Pelletier Vernooy Université de Montréal
Fabian Falkenbach Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Helen Zhang University of New South Wales
Alisha Patel University of East Anglia
Nina Nguyen University of Sherbrooke

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