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Top Doctors Call on Charities to 'Do No Harm' and Divest from Fossil Fuels

'A decision not to divest will continue to bolster the social license of an industry that has indicated no intention of taking meaningful action'

Doctors and researchers say climate change is a global health problem. (Photo: Light Brigading/flickr/cc)

Fifty of the world's leading medical doctors and researchers on Thursday joined in the call for two multibillion dollar charities—Wellcome Trust and Gates Foundation—to divest their endowments from "the world’s 200 largest fossil fuel companies over the next five years"—because global health depends on it.

"Divestment rests on the premise that it is wrong to profit from an industry whose core business threatens human and planetary health, bringing to mind one of the foundations of medical ethics—first, do no harm," wrote the doctors and scholars in an open letter published in The Guardian.

Signatories included Dr. Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of The British Medical Journal, Dr. Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, and professors from across the United Kingdom.


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Not surprisingly, they grounded their plea in scientific evidence: "It is uncontested that the majority of carbon reserves listed on stock exchanges must remain underground if we are to avoid exceeding a 2C rise in global mean temperature and the catastrophic health impacts this would have. Our current business-as-usual trajectory commits us to over 2C warming—a point scientists have described as the threshold between 'dangerous' and 'extremely dangerous'—within decades."

The experts noted, "Our primary concern is that a decision not to divest will continue to bolster the social license of an industry that has indicated no intention of taking meaningful action."

In issuing the call, the doctors join in a campaign initiated by the Guardian in March, targeting these two charities that purport to view climate change as a serious threat.

However, they also join a growing global movement to divest from the fossil fuels industry. Thanks to pressure from the grassroots, a large number of major institutions worldwide have agreed to divest, including more than: 30 colleges and universities, 40 cities, 80 religious institutions, 30 foundations. Meanwhile, there is a growing push from within the divestment movement to couple divestment efforts with reinvestment in front-lines communities that are already bearing the brunt of climate change—and building grassroots solutions for climate and economic justice.

Earlier this week, the Lutheran World Foundation announced it will join this international campaign by divesting from the fossil fuels industry and encouraging member churches to do the same. Supporters say this latest development is yet another sign that momentum is building on a large scale.

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