Psychologist logo
BPS updates, Climate and environment

'We call on the British Psychological Society to divest from fossil fuels'

Mark Burton and Carolyn Kagan on their open letter to the Society Trustees.

07 August 2017

Members are calling on the British Psychological Society to end its investments in companies in the fossil fuel industry. We have written an open letter to the Trustees of the Society (see below) following similar calls in the pages of The Psychologist in August and October 2015. We are aware that the Trustees are considering this matter. The BPS has some £23m of investments [see below], but requests for information on the proportion in fossil fuels and details of its deliberations have not been forthcoming. We are told that the Society has a responsible investment policy, but no copy has been produced when requested.

This is important for a Society concerned with health and wellbeing: we know that climate change is a major threat to humanity and in particular that extreme weather events are associated with psychological trauma and distress.

Members can join us in asking the BPS Trustees to show leadership by first freezing fossil fuel investment and then, over a period of up to five years, mounting a managed programme of divestment from fossil fuels? At the time of writing, 88 further members had signed up to endorse the letter.

Some transparency to members by the Trustees of our Society would be welcome in respect of this matter.

Mark H. Burton AFBPS

Carolyn Kagan HonFBPS


An open letter to the Society Trustees

In light of the urgency of responding to global climate change and the overwhelming evidence of the impacts on population health and well-being, we call on the British Psychological Society (BPS) to divest from fossil fuels.

The BPS has approximately £23M of investments [see below]. It is not known how much is in fossil fuel companies, but if the portfolio is typical, then it is likely to be a significant proportion.

Climate change is the single biggest threat to global health of the 21st century. Much research already exists to demonstrate the mental health impacts of flooding, for example, in the UK over the last twenty years.

These impacts of climate change on health, well-being and the associated services is something that we feel should be brought to the attention of BPS members. Divestment is an effective tactic that engages people by empowering them to feel able to influence the systemic drivers of climate change.

The BPS is in a strong position to show climate leadership and draw attention to the threat that climate change poses to mental health.  In so doing it will be in a much stronger position to lobby Government for investments in the research and services needed to prepare the UK for the health and well-being impacts of climate change.

We do not believe this compromises the duties of trustees, and this is supported by recent legal opinion on ethical investment policies of charities which makes it clear that as a health charity there is certainly a legal mandate, if not an obligation, to divest from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile The American Psychological Association has shown strong leadership in researching and advocating for action to address climate change, recognising that "climate change has already had disproportionate impact on the poor, including greater impacts on women and children, on rural regions and their inhabitants". We call on the BPS to demonstrate this same resolve to act by joining more than one hundred UK organisations that have already divested from fossil fuels. This would best involve a freeze on new fossil fuel investments and commitment to a managed programme of divestment over a five year period, beginning with the most damaging stocks (coal and tar sands, if held) and prioritising re-investment in assets that prioritise community well-being while delivering adequate returns.

Yours Sincerely

Mark Burton, Scholar-Activist, Former Head of Service, Manchester.

Carolyn Kagan, Professor Emerita, Manchester.

Ian Parker, Professor Emeritus Manchester / Leicester.

Dave Harper, Reader in Clinical Psychology, London.

Annie Mitchell, Clinical Director and Associate Professor, Devon.

Lisa Thorne, Principal Psychologist.

Francis Vergunst, Postdoctoral Researcher, Oxford / Montreal.

Sally Zlotowitz, Acting Clinical Director and Chair, Community Psychology Section, London.

Sally Weintrobe, Psychoanalyst and writer on climate change, London.

Ms Shira Rüb Clinical Psychologist, (Expert Witness), Devon

and others


Society Honorary Treasurer Ray Miller responds:

The investment policy of the Society is kept under constant review by the Trustees in line with their legal responsibilities. As has been stated before, this involves regular contact with the investment advisors to the Society and review of the ethical policy. The views of individual trustees are also taken into account. May I point out that the investment portfolio of the Society as stated in the accounts to 31 December 2016 is £12.8m and not £23m as incorrectly stated in earlier correspondence.