Healthcare professionals call on sector to divest from fossil fuels

For the first time in the decade-long divestment movement, healthcare professionals are teaming up with climate finance organizers to focus on the role of the healthcare sector in continuing to keep their massive employee pension and retirement funds invested in fossil fuels; huge institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, Sloan Kettering, Kaiser Permanente and MD Anderson have substantial holdings in fossil fuels.

“Hospitals divested from tobacco in the 1990s, and it’s time they do this now,” said Don Lieber, a surgical technician at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in NYC. “Continuing to invest in fossil fuels, with what we know about the serious risks to human health posed by fossil fuels and the accelerating climate crisis, is a complete betrayal of our professional healthcare responsibilities”

The “First Do No Harm” campaign was launched today as part of the Climate Safe Pensions Network, with a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine, across social media, and following increased calls from within the healthcare sector for institutions to act stronger on climate, including a dramatic “Call To Action” issued by the President of the National Academy of Medicine.

“Fossil fuel divestment advocates have had tremendous successes in many sectors, institutions like Harvard, the State of New York Retirement System, and ABP (Europe’s largest pension) are examples of institutions with recent divestment commitments.” said Amy Gray, Senior Climate Finance Strategist at “The Healthcare Sector has been remarkably silent and it’s time for that to change” she said.

Doctors and other healthcare staff are seeking to change that.  “First Do No Harm” will release an open letter for healthcare workers nationwide on Thursday calling on staff across the country to start divestment campaigns at their institutions, and to sign a letter of support for the ongoing current divestment campaigns (Kaiser, Sloan) to set precedent.

“The research on the severe, ubiquitous and accelerating consequences to public health from climate change is unequivocal” said Dr Ashley McClure, a primary care physician and co-Executive Director of the nonprofit Climate Health Now based in California.  “Just as many leading health organizations have divested from tobacco companies given the unacceptable health harms of their products, our institutions must now invest in alignment with public health and collective safety by urgently divesting our resources from the coal, oil and gas corporations fueling the climate crisis– our families and communities deserve courageous leadership now.”

To date, over 1500 institutions representing more than $40 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment. This includes sectors spanning from faith groups and educational institutions, to pension funds and philanthropy.  With the compound impacts of the climate crisis revealed on the frontlines of healthcare, the First Do No Harm campaign aims to hold the sector to its principles and oaths by divesting from fossil fuels.