September 20, 2022
Fossil fuel divestment movement targets U.S. health sector, sends 75,000+ letters to National Academy of Medicine calling divestment a global health and equity imperative
Ahead of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)’s Steering Committee Meeting, First, Do No Harm campaign calls pension investments in fossil fuels a direct contradiction to the core responsibilities of healthcare.
New York, NY – Amidst New York City Climate Week and in advance of a crucial meeting of the National Academy of Medicine on September 23, the First, Do No Harm (FDNH) campaign for healthcare divestment has sent over 75,000 letters to the nation’s most influential medical organization, calling for healthcare institutions to divest from fossil fuels.
“It’s incredible hypocrisy from the healthcare sector: you can’t decarbonize while still investing in fossil fuels. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) has called on U.S. institutions to decarbonize as a matter of public health urgency, and we greatly applaud this,” said Dr. Jane van Dis, Assistant Professor, University of Rochester. “But thus far, NAM has said nothing about a key root-cause of pollution: fossil fuel investments being made by our healthcare institutions. This is a direct contradiction to its call to decarbonize. It’s like telling a lung cancer patient to get chemotherapy without telling them to stop smoking.”
In addition to the 75,000 letters sent, the FDNH campaign sent personal, open letters directly to NAM Steering Committee members ahead of their crucial September 23 Steering Committee meeting. The open letter urges them to adopt fossil fuel divestment as organizational policy within their existing climate action framework for the sector.
There are 1,228 private (for profit) hospitals in the U.S., according to the American Hospital Association. A review of publicly available records indicates a wide range of fossil fuel investment levels among these institutions – from Kaiser Permanente’s estimated $2.8 billion, to Sloan-Kettering’s $1 Billion (mostly indirect fossil fuel exposure through climate funders such as JP Morgan).
“The fossil fuel divestment movement emerged at several major US health institutions, yet so far each campaign has been rejected by their institution’s investment managers,” said Don Lieber, a certified surgical technologist and organizer for First, Do No Harm. “Now, we’re asking NAM to exert its influence and moral authority, and call for fossil fuel divestment in its own sector, as a health and equity imperative.”
In what may be the biggest contradiction to NAMs high-profile Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the Health Sector, the revered Mayo Clinic maintains direct ownership of 24 actively producing oil wells in Roberts County, Texas, responsible for billions of barrels of oil production.
“These +1,000 healthcare institutions currently collectively invest tens of billions of dollars into the fossil fuel industry,” said Amy Gray, Senior Climate Finance Strategist with Stand.earth. “This immense flow of funds is enabling health harms and exacerbating the climate crisis – the complete opposite of NAM’s calls for decarbonization.”
As part of the Climate Safe Pensions Network, the First, Do No Harm campaign launched in March 2022 through a publication in the New England Journal of Medicine. The campaign targets the healthcare sector, and calls on key high-profile institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, Sloan Kettering, Kaiser Permanente and NYU Langone to divest their massive employee pension and retirement funds from fossil fuels.
To date, 1540 institutions representing more than $40 trillion in assets have already committed to fossil fuel divestment. Currently, the health sector is loudly absent from the growing list of fossil fuel divestment commitments. Hospitals divested from tobacco in the ‘90s, and the First, Do No Harm calls for the sector to divest from fossil fuels now.
A plethora of research establishes profound and accelerating harms to human health and equity from the climate crisis. In response, NAM’s President, Dr. Victor Dzau, in 2021 published a high-profile “Call to Action” urging immediate reductions of fossil fuel emissions. NAM’s organizational vision statement includes “A healthy future for everyone.” Fossil fuel investments are incompatible with NAM’s vision.