The practical consequences of limiting warming to 2 degrees have formed the cornerstone of our recent campaigning efforts in the Fossil Free Health campaign. As outlined in detail in our Unhealthy Investments report, as much as 80% of fossil fuel reserves already listed on global markets must remain unburned for us to stand a decent chance of sticking to the 2C target. The divestment campaign uses the financial consequences of this ‘carbon bubble’ (the artificial inflation of fossil fuel share values based on the assumption that all of these reserves can be profitably exploited) as a tool for highlighting the need for a rapid decarbonisation of our energy economy and transition to a more sustainable society. Given the uniquely trusted position they occupy and their authority in speaking on issues affecting health, health workers have a particular responsibility to advocate on these issues; as a recent article by public health doctor and director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit Dr David Pencheon puts it, “If health professionals don’t draw a line in the sand, then who will? And if we don’t do it now, then when will we do it?” Moreover, health professionals can draw attention to the huge benefits to health of making this transition – from greener, bike-friendly urban environments increasing physical activity and improving mental health, to lower-carbon vegetarian diets which reduce rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
In our previous blog, we discussed the historical origins of and ethical judgements behind the 2C warming goal in international climate policy, and what 2C of warming would mean for global health. These theoretical issues aside, the 2C bottom line occupies a powerful position in climate organising, because it issues an unambiguous call to action. Limiting surface temperature increase to 2C above pre-industrial averages, as the majority of national governments worldwide are committed to, demands prompt and drastic action – and now is the Time to Act.
These were some of the concerns that brought a contingent of HP, Medsin, and other sympathetic types to the Time to Act! march last Saturday afternoon. We joined over 20,000 others from across the country, supporting a host of different causes – warm homes, green jobs, environmental justice or just the space to ride a bike – united by the acknowledgement that all of these would play a small part in transforming our society to protect it from the worst excesses of climate change. Medics can be unwilling to get too involved with grassroots campaigning, preferring to retain a professional distance, and with it the veneer of smart-suited respectability. But to participate in a widespread shift of social norms, merely speaking from behind that veneer is not enough. People did not stop smoking or break from the cultural dominance of the tobacco industry merely when doctors warned of the health threats – they did so when health workers themselves stopped smoking, and distanced themselves from the industry through divestment. Given the scale of intersecting fossil-fuel-driven public health emergencies – air pollution and climate change being just the most obvious – it is now unambiguously time for health workers to act.