Divestment. Why should I, a poor medical student who spends every second week eyeing off people's food scraps at McDonalds, bother thinking about who I'm banking with?

Wow, what a great rhetorical question and smooth introduction, Abby! Truth is, there actually are some pretty good reasons...

By now, we've all been made pretty aware of the alarming impacts of fossil fuel usage, waste and climate change. #savetheturtles, buy a bamboo toothbrush, all that jazz. However, what's not so immediately obvious are the severe implications both climate change and air pollution have for us not only as global citizens but also as future health practitioners.

I know you're all busy people with Santa letters to write, so I'll lay out the main points.

Climate change and air pollution by fossil fuels have been linked to:

  • 🌧 Strain on water resources, loss of biodiversity and reduced agricultural productivity
  • 🔥 Increased severe weather events and heat-related deaths
  • 🦗 Increased vector-borne diseases
  • 🍽 Increased risk of food and water-borne infections
  • 😷 Worsening of chronic health conditions, including increased hospitalisations for those suffering from chronic respiratory disease and triggering of cardiovascular events and stroke.

Most alarmingly, it has been already found by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that air pollution from burning fossil fuels and from industrial processes has led to 3,000 premature deaths per year in Australia alone - that's more than our annual road toll. Not only this, but it's been estimated to cost the nation up to $24.3 billion in health expenses every year!! Did nobody teach these guys about primary prevention??!

As a body of future health practitioners, this is why the Adelaide Medical Students' Society has made a conscious decision to remove all support to the fossil fuel industry, including what they rely on most - BANKS. We are very proud to announce our switch in banking to our valued sponsor BOQ Specialist, who listened to our concerns regarding the severe health implications of fossil fuels and committed to ending all contracts related to the industry. Not to mention our interest rates have skyrocketed too 💰💰💰!

Regardless of the changes we may see in our own backyard, as lucky citizens of Australia we must also check our privilege and acknowledge that the people who will be most affected by climate change are the vulnerable, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and those in areas who may barely be contributing to climate change at all. Personally, what motivated me to take a more active interest in this subject was a figure, albeit now slightly outdated, illustrating just how bad the inequity of climate change is by adjusting the global map according to climate change contributors vs those affected (below.)

"Comparison of undepleted cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (by country) for 1950 to 2000 versus the regional distribution of four climate-sensitive health effects (malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea and inland flood-related fatalities)" (Patz et al. 2007)

If that's not motivation to rally our country to take better action and play our part in reducing global warming, I don't know what is.

Now, if you're feeling a little sceptical thinking about how nice and clean-looking our air is, or how Trump isn't that bad of a guy and climate change may just be #fakenews after all, I'd just like to say this isn't some hippy information that came to me in a dream last night (although my dreams are pretty interesting, dm me if you'd like to hear about them.) Information about the impacts of climate change has been reported by the IPCC as well as in prestigious journals such as The Lancet. Even the World Health Organisation has labelled climate change as "the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century." I've left some great resources below and would encourage you to have a look if you'd like to fact-check or learn a little more.

Whilst individual efforts to mitigate climate change can sometimes feel minute and meaningless at times, switching banks to one that doesn't support the fossil fuel industry can make a powerful statement about where your values lie. Of course, there are many other valuable ways to help reduce your carbon footprint too - ride your bike 🚲 eat local seasonal food 🌱 use public transport 🚌 reduce energy usage💡 lower your meat intake 🥩 and avoid fast fashion 👕, amongst other measures.

If you'd like to get involved, there is more specific information available and opportunities on the Doctors for the Environment website - it's now free to join for any medical students who are members of their local student global health group! For now I'll be stepping off my soapbox, but please feel free to contact me or the AMSS with any questions or ideas.

Peace out, do good, and go save the world



Doctors for the Environment - Website and SA Student Facebook Group

AIHW (Australian institute of Health and Welfare) 2016 'Australian Burden of Disease study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2011', AIHW, Canberra.

Cormack C 2015 '3000 deaths caused by air pollution each year prompt calls for tougher standards', The Sydney Morning Herald

Dean A. & Green D. 2017 'Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health in Australia', UNSW Sydney, Grand Challenges, Sydney Australia

Environmental Justice Australia 2014 'Clearing the air: Why Australia urgently needs effective national air pollution laws', Carlton, Victoria

Patz J. A. et al. 2007 'Climate Change and Global Health: Quantifying a Growing Ethical Crisis', EcoHealth Journal Consortium, pp. 397-405

Smith, K.R. et al. 2014: Human health: impacts, adaptation, and co-benefits. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 709-754.

Watts, N et al. 2018, 'The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: shaping the health of nations for centuries to come', Lancet, vol. 392, no. 10163, Dec 8, pp. 2479-2514.