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An Open Letter to the University of Melbourne from

members of its Medical Student community


In full support of Fossil Free Melbourne University, and in recognition of the
consequences of inaction in the face of climate change, we, the undersigned, call on
the University to:

1. Investigate and disclose its investments in companies whose primary business is the
exploration, extraction, processing and transportation of fossil fuels;
2. Stop any new investments in these companies;
3. Develop a plan to end its investments in the fossil fuel sector within 5 years, with
ongoing transparency of its investments.

As members of a world-leading community of medical students, we believe that it is
crucial for the integrity of our work that the institutions which support us do not
undermine our projects towards achieving better health through short-sighted
investments in fossil fuels. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned about the
potentially devastating social, economic and health outcomes of climate change,
should it proceed unchecked. We believe that it is immoral to enable environmentally
unsustainable processes, like fossil fuel extraction and distribution, to continue to
exacerbate climate change when we are fully aware of the gravity of the risks.

Our work in the health sciences, in public health, and in the frontline of patient-
centred health care will be constituted by a diverse variety of projects, but at some
level we are all concerned with improving human health in a broad, holistic sense.
This is an overarching project that climate change threatens to undermine in a
fundamental way. In Australia, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) warns of more heat-waves, which threaten vulnerable populations in our
society like the young, the old and the already ill. We are likely to see an increase in
extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, storms and bushfires which have the
potential to devastate the health of communities directly as well as the health
infrastructure that supports them. Climate change also threatens to shift the profile of
infectious diseases, including food-borne, water-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses
like dengue fever and Ross River fever, which are currently confined only to northern
parts of Queensland.

The fifth Annual Report released by the IPCC this year reaffirms the science and the
data underlying anthropogenic climate change. The best estimate of warming by 2100
is still 4°C, in consensus with the International Energy Agency and the World Bank,
but the predicted rates of sea-level rise are now even more rapid.

Beyond our own borders, the health implications of these impacts are huge for more
vulnerable countries. Super-typhoon Haiyan in November 2013 will be but one in a
series of extreme weather events as climate change alters the volatility of our weather
systems. Beyond the calculations of death-tolls and economic costs, there emerges a
humanitarian crisis with millions displaced without food, shelter or water and
vulnerable to disease. It is not surprising that the Philippines ranks 9
th
on Maplecroft’s
Climate Change Vulnerability Index, along with many other mid-latitude countries
whose economic status, resource security and available infrastructure mean that the
immediate threats of climate change are amplified by magnitudes through the
potential costs to lives and communities. These matters of global health are of the
utmost urgency.

However, when fossil fuel investments continue to be profitable, it is because
investors and the fossil-fuel industry continue to ignore climate change and to bet
against it. They continue to act as though burning fossil fuels is sustainable and that
carbon exploration will allow for infinite growth, even though we know that most of
the fossil fuels we already have access to is unburnable. We do not want to be
complicit in such a ludicrous and short-sighted bet, and nor will we be satisfied with
being part of institutions who are.

We urge the University not only to honour the commitments it has already made with
regards to environmental problems, but to be a leader in acting to recognise the
imminence and severity of climate change. We ask that the University divest its
financial assets that contribute directly to the success of fossil fuel companies. We
believe that the security of investments in the fossil fuel industry is not one that can or
should be sustained, and that symbolically and economically meaningful actions such
as divestment will bring us many steps closer towards ending our reliance on fossil
fuels.