Fighting for intergenerational justice – midwives can be climate champions


Climate change is damaging the health of millions

The health of hundreds of millions of people around the world is being damaged by climate change. Climate change has a range of direct and indirect impacts on health. Direct impacts include damage to health via intense heatwaves, floods and storms. Indirect health impacts include those brought about by rising sea levels and changing ecosystems that alter the spread of disease and reduce food production. Unchecked climate change will claim many human lives and has the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm our health services.

The future of today’s babies is under threat

As a midwife, every day I meet new babies whose lives have just begun: who will grow to be the generations of the future.  They are the ones who will live to see some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis that our generation is causing. By the time they are looking to start their own families the global temperature could be well above what our society, civilisation and planet can cope with. I can’t help but worry about the kind of world they will have to live in. Will they have access to enough food? Or enough clean water?  Will they have to live through wars and violence as vast areas of land becomes uninhabitable and as essential resources for human survival run short? Will they suffer the kind of tragedies we have already seen from extreme weather events?

The new parents I meet are full of hope for their children and would want them to have lives just as comfortable, stable and secure as the lives that they have lived. It’s up to all of us to do everything we can to leave the world as safe as possible for this next generation.

The fossil fuel industry is driving climate change and blocking climate action

In order to prevent catastrophic climate change, fossil fuel companies would have keep over 80% of proven gas, oil and coal reserves in the ground. Despite this, they continue to explore for even more fossil fuels sources. The fossil fuel industry is also using its money and lobbying power to delay the transition away from fossil fuels, disrupting any kind of genuine climate action. There is no time to wait for this industry to change of its own accord, and no signs that the intention is even there.

Divestment can help break the fossil fuel industry’s power

We must take a stand against the fossil fuel industry. Supporting fossil fuel divestment is one practical way for midwives to do this.  Divestment is a tool that can be used to catalyse the change we need and involves selling off any shares or other investments that an institution holds in fossil fuel companies.

Divestment stigmatises the fossil fuel industry, reducing its social licence and power over governments. When trusted health workers such as midwives speak out against the fossil fuel industry the stigmatisation effect is even more pronounced. Using our voices and our institutions’ investments we can help to accelerate the transition to a safer, healthier global energy system powered by renewable energy. Please email [email protected] to find out how you can encourage divestment in the organisations you are affiliated with.

We have used divestment before to protect health and fight for human rights

Two decades ago the health community played a leading role in the tobacco divestment movement; this raised public awareness of the risks of smoking and prompted the introduction of legislation to restrict the tobacco industry. Divestment also played a role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The economic arguments against divestment are reminiscent of those fighting the abolition of slavery.  Our economy can change, as it did then. We can invest in clean energy and health instead. As people realise that we cannot continue with business as usual, oil and gas assets will become worthless so it makes neither ethical nor financial sense to continue channeling money into them.

Health organisations are joining the fossil fuel divestment movement

I have been heartened by recent fossil fuel divestment announcements by UK healthcare organisations. Last summer, the UK’s largest medical royal college, the Royal College of GPs announced that it was ending its investment in gas, oil and coal companies. And this winter the Faculty of Public Health and the British Psychological Society committed to also divest from fossil fuels. They join over 1000 institutions who are cutting their ties with the fossil fuel industry. Looking further afield the American Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Canadian Medical Association have also rid themselves of fossil fuel investments.

Midwives have a duty to act – and can make a real impact!

As midwives, we care about the future of the babies and new families we meet. We also have a duty of care to promote public health and prioritise people. We are in the unique and privileged position of being held in a position of trust and as such are expected to speak out as advocates in our patients best interests. By supporting our public and professional institutions to cut their ties with the fossil fuel industry we can do our bit to mitigate the worst health impacts of approaching climate breakdown.

I call on royal colleges who have not yet divested to follow the example of those who have and join the divestment movement for the sake of global health, our own children and each new baby who comes blinking into the world.

Royal College of Midwives (RCM) members and local RCM branches can play an important role in promoting fossil fuel divestment – please email [email protected] to find out how you can get involved. By working together health professionals can be a powerful force for change.