Letter to the Editor Template for Health Professionals on AMA Divestment

Please use this template as the basis for letters to your state or national medical journal, magazine, or newsletter (or similar nursing publications). Please edit the text below to make it more relevant to your specialty or your colleagues.  The full text of the resolution affirmed by the AMA House of Delegates is here.

Dear Editor,

As a [physician or nurse], I was pleased to learn that, on June 14, the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association voted to divest from fossil fuels (divestment). This means “ending investments or financial relationships with companies that generate the majority of their income from the exploration for, production of, transportation of, or sale of fossil fuels”.  In doing so, the AMA is part of a growing movement that already includes the World Medical Association, the British Medical Association, and the Canadian Medical Association, all of which have divested their assets from fossil fuel companies. In the 1990s, leading health organizations divested their tobacco holdings to bring attention to the harm caused by smoking. Now, such organizations are committing to divest from another industry that profits by making us sick.

The AMA discussion about this action included an analysis of the Return on Investment (ROI); this found they would have done better over the last 20 years if they had divested earlier. This makes clear that divesting is the right thing to do.  It’s also the smart thing to do.  It will become all the righter and smarter as the health harms of climate change become more widely understood.

From extraction to combustion, fossil fuels pose a direct threat to the health of our communities. Air pollution in the U.S. from fossil fuels causes 200,000 premature deaths each year, according to an MIT study.  However, the closing of oil and coal-fired power plants has been shown to generate immediate health improvements. Carbon pollution from fossil fuels is also the leading cause of climate change, which contributes to increased insect-borne and heat-related illnesses; food and water scarcity; and injuries, deaths and mental health impacts from extreme weather events. As healthcare providers, we have a moral obligation not to support an industry that causes so much harm.

It is time for all health organizations to honor our responsibility to our healing mission by divesting from fossil fuels. Our policymakers must also follow the advice of medical experts and make the decision to invest in clean energy for our health and for the health of our children and future generations.

Thank you,

[your name and professional title]

Full Text of the AMA Resolution:

Submitted by:  American Association of Public Health Physicians

WHEREAS the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has concluded that the burning of fossil fuels by humans to generate energy is the principal driver of climate change.  Burning fossil fuels is already causing accelerated warming of Earth’s surface, which is a direct threat to both environmental and human health; and

WHEREAS the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, petroleum derivatives, and natural gas, is recognized by the AMA to be detrimental to human health and to contribute significantly to global climate change; and

WHEREAS AMA policies favor environmental education and stewardship (H-135.973, H-135.969, H-135.939) and the need for improved energy efficiency in our offices and medical centers (D-155.999), and other aspects of environmental sustainability, but these policies do not address the investment and business strategies of health professionals, professional organizations, and hospitals; and

WHEREAS our AMA recognizes the importance of physician involvement in policymaking at the state, national, and global level and supports efforts to search for novel, comprehensive, and economically sensitive approaches to mitigating climate change to protect the health of the public (H-135-938); and

WHEREAS our AMA recognizes that whatever the etiology of global climate change, policymakers should work to reduce human contributions to such changes (H-135.938); and

WHEREAS in recent years, divestment of fossil fuel companies by healthcare organizations has been initiated by Gundersen Health, a well-known health system based in Wisconsin; by HESTA Australia, a health care industry retirement fund worth $26 billion [correct to 2018 figures if different]; and by the British Medical Association; and

WHEREAS as physicians who have committed to the principle of “First do no harm”, we share an ethical obligation to minimizing fossil fuel consumption in our daily activities, and to strive to influence the healthcare institutions within which we practice and our professional societies to divest from fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS the AMA Board of Trustees’ thoughtful report on fossil fuels divestment (B of T Report 34-A-18) acknowledges that fossil fuels divestment over the last 20 years would have improved AMA’s portfolio results and acknowledges that divestment might be a prudent investment choice looking forward, but raises fears that the language of the original resolution (Resolution 607-A-17) might create legal risk because of risk modeling in light of outside counsel’s interpretation of fiduciary duty; therefore be it

RESOLVED that our American Medical Association, Foundation, and any affiliated corporations shall work in a timely, incremental, and fiscally responsible manner, to the extent allowed by their legal and fiduciary duties, to end all financial investments or relationships (divestment) with companies that generate the majority of their income from the exploration for, production of, transportation of, or sale of fossil fuels; and be it further

RESOLVED that our AMA shall, when fiscally responsible, choose for its commercial relationships vendors, suppliers, and corporations that have demonstrated environmental sustainability practices that seek to minimize their fossil fuels consumption; and be it further

RESOLVED that our AMA shall support efforts of physicians and other health professional associations to proceed with divestment, including to create policy analyses, support continuing medical education, and to inform our patients, the public, legislators, and government policymakers.

*** end of resolution ***

Tips for getting published and making an impact:

  • Be sure to read carefully the requirements for your journal or magazine including word count
  • Instead of the general health effects of pollution and climate change, edit this template to include the specific impacts you see in your daily practice as a health professional in your region.