Wellcome Prize judges contribute to Guardian campaign

Wellcome Prize judges contribute to Guardian campaign

Andrew Motion and Mark Haddon [pictured] are among the writers calling on the Wellcome Trust, which is behind the Wellcome Book Prize, to withdraw its investment from fossil fuel companies.

The authors were canvassed for their views by the Guardian as part of its Keep it in the Ground campaign, which is calling on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to stop investing in fossil fuels, because it is “morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal” when “climate change poses a real threat to all of us”.

The Wellcome Book Prize celebrates the best books that engage with some aspect of medicine, health or illness, and the £30,000 prize is sponsored by the health charity the Wellcome Trust. Haddon, who is on the judging panel for this year’s award, the winner of which will be announced on Wednesday (29th April), was canvassed for their views by the Guardian that he thought the Wellcome Trust should sell off its investment in fossil fuel companies.

Motion, who chaired the panel of the 2014 prize, told the newspaper: “The Wellcome Trust does magnificent work in all sorts of ways, but its investment in fossil fuels contradicts many of its own policies. By divesting from fossil fuels it would show leadership in keeping with its reputation and ideals.”

The Wellcome Trust has said it believes “engagement rather than divestment gives us the best opportunity for change”.

The Guardian said that Marian Coutts, author of the 2015 Wellcome Prize-shortlisted The Iceberg (Atlantic) has supported campaign, as have two of the other shortlisted authors, whom the newspaper said preferred to remain anonymous.

The other shortlisted books this year are Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss (Granta); All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (Faber); Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson); The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being by Alice Roberts (Quercus); and My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel (Windmill Books).

Adam Rutherford, a geneticist, writer and broadcaster shortlisted in 2014, said he did support divestment. He told the Guardian: “I fear that divestment looks like gesture politics, and that an open policy of change from within a shareholding capacity might be more fruitful and influential.”

A spokesperson for the Wellcome Trust said: “Reducing carbon emissions is of crucial importance, but there are differing views as how this is best achieved. The network of people with whom the Wellcome Trust enjoys relationships is broad and it would be surprising if this community did not contain a diversity of opinion about fossil fuel investments. We believe engagement rather than divestment gives us the best opportunity for change. This is an issue on which reasonable people who share environmental goals will reach different conclusions, and we are entirely comfortable with alternative views to our own.”

Others who have supported the Guardian’s call for divestment are 2011 prize winner Alice LaPlante; 2014 judge Lisa Appignanesi; neuroscientist and 2012 shortlistee John Coates; Professor Havi Hannah Carel, shortlisted for the book prize in 2009; doctor and philosopher Professor Raymond Tallis, who was a judge for the prize in 2009; 2010 shortlisted author Tim Parks; novelist and 2011 judge Tim Lott; poet and 2012 judge Ruth Padel; 2012 shortlisted writer Peter James; and broadcaster and 2009 judge Quentin Cooper.