British Psychological Society divests from gas, oil and coal

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The British Psychological Society (BPS) has committed to divest its £12.8M investment portfolio from fossil fuel extraction companies. BPS is the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK and is responsible for the promotion of excellence and ethical practice in the science, education, and application of the discipline.

BPS joins a growing number of health organisation who have committed to end their investment in fossil fuels, including the Royal College of General Practitioners, the American Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Canadian Medical Association, the Australian Medical Students’ Association and several health insurance firms.

Welcoming the divestment announcement, Dr Mark Burton, a BPS member, who led the BPS divestment campaign said;

“I congratulate the BPS Trustees for taking this principled position on investments.  The new policy makes it clear that companies whose main business is the extraction of fossil fuels should be excluded from the Society’s investment portfolio.  The Trustees, with their investment advisors, now need to publish the list of their present holdings, together with a timetable for moving these investments into holdings that are not implicated in climate and ecosystem destruction.”

Professor Carolyn Kagan, who also worked on the divestment campaign added;

“This move demonstrates professional leadership and a clear understanding that the extraction of fossil fuels damages not only the environment but also the health and wellbeing of us all”

Existing fossil fuel reserves contain approximately five times more carbon than can be burned if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change that would endanger the health and lives of billions. Despite this, the fossil fuel industry continues to explore for even more fossil fuels; its business plans are incompatible with maintaining a planet that is safe for humanity.

In addition to causing physical damage to health, climate change also has mental health impacts, a factor which is particularly relevant to the BPS’s decision to cut ties with gas, oil and coal companies. Commenting on this, Dr Deirdre Duff from the public health charity Medact noted;

“Climate change poses direct and indirect threats to mental health. Climate change will amplify the frequency and intensity of natural disasters which often cause physical injury, psychological trauma, infrastructure damage, and societal disruption in affected regions.”

“Fossil fuel extraction is also damaging the mental wellbeing of people living near extraction sites and causing stress, anxiety, mistrust, fear, sleep loss and other psycho-emotional effects. We’re glad that BPS has stood up and said ‘no more’ to this dangerous and damaging industry”

“In addition to excluding fossil fuels, BPS’s new investment policy excludes investments in companies that manufacture and sell armaments to oppressive regimes which is very welcome too.”

Just 100 fossil fuel companies have been responsible for more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. Fossil fuel driven climate change is already impacting the health of millions and threatens to reverse the last half century of gains in global health and development. Fossil fuels are also a major contributor to air pollution, which kills 7 million people every year according the World Health Organisation and which has been linked to ‘extremely high mortality’ in people with mental health disorders.

The BPS’s fossil fuel divestment decision follows the publication of an open letter organised by Medact, which asked the society to divest in light of the fossil fuel industry’s culpability in the climate crisis. The letter was signed by over 100 BPS members from a variety of fields of professional practice and academia.

To date, institutions managing investments worth over $7 trillion have committed to divest from fossil fuels. Many have also committed to reinvest in climate solutions.

Fossil fuel divestment is a valuable tool that health professionals can use in the fight against climate change. Divestment works by eroding the fossil fuel industry’s political power and social acceptability. This helps create conditions that are more amenable to the introduction of legislation to restrict fossil fuels and accelerate the transition to renewable energy. The quicker this transition, the more climate change related deaths we can avoid. Every act of fossil fuel divestment is important! If you’d like to get involved in encouraging other health institutes to divest contact [email protected].