Is the healthcare industry morally obligated to divest from fossil fuels? Does an industry that purports to aim to do away with or limit human disease really have any business investing in disease-causing fossil fuels?
Those might sound like questions with simple answers, but you might be surprised at how many people are willing to defend investments in fossil fuels. On that note, though, a new report was recently published by a coalition of UK-based health care organizations calling on hospitals, health-oriented nonprofits, and others in the healthcare sector to divest from fossil fuels. The primary reason being, unsurprisingly, that fossil fuels cause human disease — though the report stated it more diplomatically, referring to the “risk they pose to human health.”
The report specifically called on the healthcare sector to cut investments with regard to the world’s top 200 fossil fuel companies over the next 5 years. In what stands as a good comparison, the report notes that this decision is similar to the one faced by healthcare providers and hospitals in the 1990s with regard to divesting from tobacco companies.
The report put it thusly: “It is arguably both immoral and inconsistent for the health sector to continue to invest in industries known to harm health, given its clear responsibility to protect health. Continued investment in these companies runs directly counter to the health sector’s repeated calls for action on climate change.”
Climate Progress provides some more:
The report outlines the impacts continued reliance on fossil fuels have on human health. Changes in temperature and rainfall are already contributing to the spread of some vector-borne diseases, especially those spread by mosquitos, since the insect lays its eggs in standing water, and standing water can increase as humidity and rainfall increases. In the Southwestern US, an increase of incidence of valley fever — a disease that’s found in desert soil — has been blamed by some experts on climate change. And climate change’s impact on crops around the world will also likely worsen hunger, which can take a toll on a person’s health.
Then there are the more direct health impacts of fossil fuels. Exposure to air pollution has been tied to myriad health effects, including ADHD, kidney disease, heart attack, stroke, and death. Fossil fuel extraction and production can cause major health problems too: coal miners are at risk of developing deadly black lung disease, and oil and gas wells have been found to emit toxic, cancer-causing chemicals, making living near these wells risky.
This new report follows on the release last year of a statement from a UK doctors association calling on the World Health Organization to declare climate change a public health emergency — correctly noting that it was very likely a far greater threat than ebola, but didn’t have anywhere near the hype.
Reportedly, the British Medical Association — the publisher behind the British Medical Journal — did divest from fossil fuels last year. But other prominent divestments have so far been sparse in that sector.