British Doctors Vote To Divest From Fossil Fuels

Search form

British Doctors Vote To Divest From Fossil Fuels

British Doctors Vote To Divest From Fossil Fuels
Mon, 7/28/2014 - by Tom Lawson

The British Medical Association (BMA) has voted to end its investments in the fossil fuel industry making it the first medical organization in the world to do so. It will look to instead invest in renewable energy.

The proposal to divest from fossil fuels was passed at the BMA's annual meeting in June. The organization is the representative body for UK doctors.

Simon Bullock, a senior campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said, “More and more institutions are divesting from fossil fuels as climate change impacts grow. It's fantastic that doctors are leading from the front on this critical public health issue.”

The motion was put forward on the basis that climate change presents “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” as described in a report by the UCL-Lancet Commission in 2009.

The BMA has become part of a growing movement of institutions to divest from the oil, coal and gas industries – joining 13 universities and colleges in the U.S. alone, 28 of the world's cities, 28 investment foundations and 41 religious institutions including the World Council of Churches, which announced its commitment to divestment earlier this month.

According to the World Heath Organization, some of the potential health threats from a changing climate include extreme heat, reduced availability of drinking water and an increase in climate-sensitive diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

The transition to a low carbon economy that divesting from fossil fuels would help facilitate could also have health benefits, according to an editorial published by the British Medical Journal in April. It argued that more active forms of transport and less red meat consumption would reduce rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer, and that cleaner air would cut cases of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease.

Jane Richards, a member of the BMA’s Retired Members Forum, who put forward the divestment motion, said: “Although fossil fuels have contributed to improvements in health, it is now time to reassess our reliance on them.”

The BMA motion was passed only as a reference, meaning that although the idea is supported by BMA members, its officers must now decide whether it is financially feasible before pushing ahead. BMA chairman Mark Porter said this would allow time to explore the issue more closely.

The BMA doesn't own investment shares directly, but rather holds £80 million ($136 million) in index tracker funds, which are collective investment schemes that hold constant regardless of market conditions, and which could be changed to fossil-free portfolios.

“The BMA’s investments are relatively small, so this was largely a symbolic move,” said Christopher Venables, program and membership officer at Medact. Along with fellow campaign group Healthy Planet UK, Medact set up Fossil Free Health in April, targeting the BMA on the issue.

Venables said work is already under way to ensure the motion is acted upon. “We’re currently in conversation with the BMA about how and when they remove their investments,” he said.

“The usual timeline we recommend for institutions is five years, but that is for very complicated situations," he added. "The process should be relatively simple for the BMA so we expect the process to be completed within 12 months.”

Not all BMA members agreed that divestment is the best course of action. Dr. Paul Miller spoke against the idea, claiming that switching to fossil-free investments would “cost the association millions over years to come.”

However, fossil-free portfolios have been shown to perform similarly, and sometimes better than fossil fuel equivalents in recent years. Investing in fossil fuels is also being seen by some as an increasingly risky venture.

According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Grantham Research Institute, around 60-80% of oil, gas and coal reserves owned by firms listed on stock exchanges might never be burnt if the world acts to avoid a 2C temperature rise. This could one day render many such investments worthless.

Campaigners are hopeful that other health organizations will follow the BMA's example over the next year. Fossil Free Health is currently in dialogue with organizations including the UK's royal medical colleges, the Faculty of Public Health and the Canadian Medical Association to further push the message of divestment. Another upcoming target is the Wellcome Trust with its £16.4 billion ($27.9 billion) investment portfolio.

According to Venables, the BMA does not fully exclude the arms trade from its investment policy, allowing companies if less than 10% of their turnover is generated from armaments sales. But generally the organization has been a progressive one – and it's not the first time it has led the way on a divestment issue. In 1985 it published a report urging other healthcare organizations to remove their investments in tobacco companies.

“These institutions were advocating that patients no longer smoke tobacco, yet they were still investing in these companies,” said Beth Banks, a medical student who spoke at the BMA meeting. “Tobacco kills 6.3 million people a year, air pollution as a result of climate change kills 7 million,” she said.

“Our policies on tobacco are clear and we would not invest in a tobacco company. Our policies on climate change are also clear and now it is time to divest from fossil fuels.”

Article Tabs

Studies show that debts prevent former misdemeanants and felons from escaping poverty and moving on with their lives – not only because of what’s owed but also because of the accompanying stress and surveillance.

The rules are expected to trigger a “tsunami” of legal opposition from states and utilities who oppose the plans, which will significantly boost wind and solar power generation and force a switch away from coal power.

Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, revolving door, money in politics, golden parachutes, Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act, Robert Hormats, Thomas Nides, Goldman Sachs, Project on Government Oversight, Enron scan

Cozy with Wall Street, Hillary hasn't endorsed the Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting government officials from accepting “golden parachutes” from their former employers for entering public service.

presidential candidates, corporate tax breaks, corporate welfare

From terrible company management to supporting the Iraq war to giving away astronomical sums to corporations, here's a cast of candidates who should be dropped from the ledgers.

Activists dangling by ropes from the city's tallest bridge, and kayakers on the water below, blocked the icebreaker from heading to the Arctic for a drill operation.

Frackanpada, anti-fracking movement, fracking bans, anti-fracking camp, fracking resistance, Fracking Ez, Basque anti-fracking movement

“This is the first time fracking activists have got together on this scale internationally – from Kurdistan to Brazil, from Ukraine to Portugal and Algeria," says Catriona of Ireland, who attended the recent Frackanpada.

Posted 5 days 15 hours ago
tar sands, tar sands bikeride, carbon emissions, bitumen, The Road to Athabasca, Trans Mountain Pipeline

Through discovery of place, through story, and through personal connection with people along the way, we are journeying 1,100 miles to the tar sands of Alberta – and are asking for your support in our venture.

Posted 4 days 15 hours ago

Being sick and having nowhere to turn is terrorizing far too many Americans – as medical fraud, huge price markups and pharmaceutical copyright laws are contributing to growing illnesses and early death.

Posted 6 days 15 hours ago

This week, Aaron Draper invites you to see the humanity in the homeless via external flashes and light boxes. Next, Congress is peddling poison and wants to keep you in the DARK.

Posted 6 days 16 hours ago

Activists dangling by ropes from the city's tallest bridge, and kayakers on the water below, blocked the icebreaker from heading to the Arctic for a drill operation.

Posted 2 days 7 hours ago
Samuel DuBose, Ray Tensing, police killings, police brutality, police violence, indicted officers

Prosecutors said officer Ray Tensing “purposely killed” 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black man who was pulled over for a missing front license plate.

drone warfare, drone attacks, drone industry, BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, Blackwater, Zel Technologies, Air Force Special Operations Command, AFSOC

America's overstretched military has hired hundreds of private-sector contractors to analyze top-secret video feeds and help track suspected terrorist leaders – a secretive industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Frackanpada, anti-fracking movement, fracking bans, anti-fracking camp, fracking resistance, Fracking Ez, Basque anti-fracking movement

“This is the first time fracking activists have got together on this scale internationally – from Kurdistan to Brazil, from Ukraine to Portugal and Algeria," says Catriona of Ireland, who attended the recent Frackanpada.

Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza, Troika, Greek debt crisis, Greek bailout, Grexit, Bank for International Settlements, bank liquidity, parallel liquidity, alternative currencies

"Politicians and parties whom the electorate condemned for their efforts to turn Greece into a protectorate are now persecuting me. I wear their accusations as badges of honor."

Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, corporate trade deals, U.S. Business Coalition for TPP, corporate lobbying, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, fast track authority, Fast Track Promotion

Washington lobbying by companies and groups involved in global trade boomed in the past nine months.

Sign Up