Health organisations are urged to end investment in fossil fuelsBMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h600 (Published 03 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h600
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I have read with great interest the recent report from the Climate and Health Council (1), and I wholeheartedly agree with the suggestion that health sector organisations should promptly end investments in fossil fuels. I also applaud the British Medical Association’s decision to lead by example and join the worldwide divestment movement. As for tobacco thirty years ago, health sector investments indirectly endorse the fossil fuel industry whose business model jeopardizes the environment and promotes a sedentary lifestyle.
Beyond divestment, health sector organisations should put greater emphasis on the potential of climate change mitigation strategies (such has active transportation) to result in increased physical activity and decreased air pollution at the population level (2,3). Of particular interest, evidence from the Cuban “Special Period” demonstrates that a major reduction in fossil fuel use can lead to increased physical activity, reduced energy intake, and important decreases in mortality from diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular disease (4). Furthermore, road traffic accidents represent the 8th cause of death worldwide with most fatalities resulting from collisions involving motorized vehicles (5).
In December 2015, World leaders will gather in Paris to negotiate the successor of the Kyoto Protocol, and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, bold actions are urgently needed if we are to be successful in limiting global warming to 2ºC (6). Demonstration that climate change mitigation strategies present a win-win scenario for the environment and public health (2-4) and make sense economically (7) may help overcome the current political shilly-shally.
1. Unhealthy Investments: Fossil Fuel Investments and the UK Health Community; 2015. Available from: www.unhealthyinvestments.uk [cited 2015 Feb 17].
2. Patz JA, Frumkin H, Holloway T, Vimont DJ, Haines A. Climate change: challenges and opportunities for global health. JAMA. 2014;312(5):1565-1580.
3. Woodcock J, Edwards P, Tonne C, et al. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: urban land transport. Lancet. 2009;374:1930-1943.
4. Franco M, Orduñez P, Caballero B, et al. Impact of energy intake, physical activity, and population-wide weight loss on cardiovascular disease and diabetes mortality in Cuba, 1980-2005. Am J Epidemiol. 2007;166(12):1374-1380
5. World Health Organization. Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: supporting a decade of action. Geneva, World Health Organization. Available from: http://apps.who.int/iris/handle/10665/78256 [cited 2015 Feb 17].
6. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis. Available from: http://www.climatechange2013.org/ [cited 2015 Feb 17].
7. Stern N. The Economics of Climate Change: Stern Review. Cambrige, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2007.
Competing interests: No competing interests
I am repeatedly amazed at how seriously the medical community takes unbalanced and ridiculous ideas from climate activists.
I'm sure leaping onto the climate activism bandwagon generates warm feelings of doing the right thing on an important global issue about which medics know little, but it doesn't lead to good policy recommendations. Being able to demonise an industry for the problem alleviates any concern that their own actions might be responsible (I absolve anyone who foregoes driving to work or heating their house).
But if your real concern is to make the world a better, healthier place then you have to take seriously the tradeoffs and not just accept the naive and deceptive reports from partisan single-issue activists.
I've argued before that there are no convincing direct effects to human health from global warming. But we don't need to look at what I've previously argued to see why ignoring tradeoffs when deciding policy is a rotten way to decide the best action: the sources behind the activist statements already have all the evidence required.
For example, the cost of fossil fuel use in terms of pollution are prominent in there activists' report. This makes fossil fuels evil. But look beneath to the WHO estimates of the worldwide deaths from airborne pollution from coal and oil during plants (look it up here: http://www.who.int/phe/health_topics/outdoorair/databases/en/). 8 million are estimated to die each year from airborne pollution (from mostly coal and oil). But more than half of those deaths are caused by indoor air pollution from the use of wood-burning stoves in places like India and Africa. But those deaths are, in reality, caused by the lack of a viable local energy infrastructure (most efficiently delivered by fossil fuel power plants). Here, an increase in fossil fuel use would directly save many lives by avoiding indoor stoves in addition to making poor people's lives unimaginably better in many other ways. Or compare the estimates for deaths by fuel use in China and the USA. For the same amount of energy produced from coal, China kills ten times more people than the USA. Not because the USA doesn't burn coal but because they have better anti-pollution legislation. Which policy measure is achievable and likely to save the most lives? not abandoning fossil fuels but using better anti-pollution rules.
The debate on climate change is dominated by hysterical rhetoric and lacks logic and balanced evidence. The medical community has a responsibility to actually make the world a better place not to make itself feel good about being on the current bandwagon. That leads to a worse world where far more die needlessly.
Competing interests: No competing interests