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Dear Debby Blakey & the HESTA Executive,

My name is [your_name]. I am a member of HESTA.

I'm writing to request that HESTA divest across all investment pools from all companies whose primary business is fossil fuel extraction, transportation or power generation.

The 2019-20 Australian bushfire season has seen extraordinary devastation to land, wildlife, homes, and most concerning to us as health professionals, human injuries sustained and lives lost. Since 2015 we have been asking HESTA to remove members’ investments from fossil fuel companies because as health professionals we feel responsible for financially supporting industries that cause disease and premature deaths through air pollution, water contamination and extreme weather events. To support these industries goes against the tenet of the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. 

Coal combustion produces air pollution that contributes to lung disease, heart disease and cancers(1). Fracking for unconventional gas puts communities and land at risk through contamination of groundwater with toxic chemicals and depletion of water supplies(2,3). All fossil fuels, when burned, contribute to climate change, which has been identified as the greatest global health threat of our time(4). Already the World Health Organization has estimated that climate change kills over 150,000 people worldwide each year by increasing extreme weather events, increasing transmission of infectious diseases, decreasing food production and other effects(5). This death toll is expected to rise to 250,000 people per year from 2030-2050(6). Here in Australia climate change will continue to increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events including heatwaves, droughts and bushfires. 

In this bushfire season 33 people have lost their lives(7) and hundreds of fires have burned over summer with air pollution exceeding hazardous levels across the country. Australia’s national standard of ultrafine particles is less than 8 micrograms/m³ and we saw suburbs 25km or more away from the fires reaching 50 micrograms/m³ in recent months(8). Tourism and agricultural sectors are expected to lose billions of dollars costing livelihoods for people, families and communities(9). High unemployment rates correlate with higher rates of mental illness and suicide(10).

In light of these health impacts it is unconscionable that HESTA continues to invest hundreds of millions of dollars of healthcare workers’ money in fossil fuel companies. HESTA’s share voting records from July 2017 to June 2019 inclusive reveal investments in APA Group, Beach Energy, Caltex, Cooper Energy, FAR Ltd, Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd, Mineral Resources Ltd, New Century Resources, New Hope, Oil Search, Santos, Senex, Seven Group, South32, Sundance Energy, Viva Energy, Whitehaven Coal, Woodside Petroleum and Wooley Parsons(11). All of these companies are either expanding fossil fuel projects in an era of climate disaster, relying on business plans incompatible with the Paris Agreement, or both. Over 400 of your members have previously written to you requesting that you remove your investments in fossil fuels. 

Debby, HESTA claims that by keeping shares in these fossil fuel companies and “engaging” with them you are more effective in changing their behaviour than if you removed your investments from them. However:

  • HESTA has already failed to advocate for adequate action on climate change as a fossil fuel company shareholder by voting against a proposal at the Whitehaven Coal AGM in 2018 for Whitehaven to align its strategy with the Paris Agreement(12).
  • HESTA has informed us that its “engagement” activities have resulted in “strategies to manage and reduce climate change risk” but we have not yet seen any evidence that engagement has resulted in any actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is unreasonable to imagine that “engaging” with fossil fuel companies will lead to emissions reduction in keeping with the goals of the Paris Agreement when those companies’ business plans rely on digging up and burning more fossil fuels.
  • Removing investments can shift broader economic and political discourse in favour of social change, as demonstrated by the contribution of disinvestment campaigns to ending apartheid. This is now a far more effective strategy than “engagement” in limiting climate change. Precedent for removing fossil fuel investments has been set by such large funds as Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global(13).

Fossil fuel companies are killing people and by owning them you are killing people. It is morally incumbent on you to divest from fossil fuels. Will you remove these investments to improve health and protect lives?

Sincerely, 

[your_name]

References:

  1. Lockwood, A.H., Welker-Hood, K., Rauch, M. & Gottlieb, B. (2009). Coal’s assault on human health: a report from physicians for social responsibility. Retrieved from http://www.psr.org/assets/pdfs/psr-coal-fullreport.pdf
  2. Coram, A., Moss, J. & Blashki, G. (2014). Harms unknown: health uncertainties cast doubt on the role of unconventional gas in Australia's energy future. Med J Aust; 200(4): 210-213. Retrieved from https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2014/200/4/harms-unknown-health-uncertainties-cast-doubt-role-unconventional-gas-australias
  3. Australian Geographic (2010). Mining could drain Queensland aquifer. Retrieved from https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2010/09/mining-could-drain-queensland-aquifer/
  4. Costello, A., Abbas, M., Allen, A., Ball, S., Bell, S., Bellamy, R., ...Patterson, C. (2009). Managing the health effects of climate change. Lancet, 373, 1693-73. Retrieved from http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60935-1/fulltext
  5. World Health Organization. Climate change. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/heli/risks/climate/climatechange/en/
  6. World Health Organization. Climate change and health. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health
  7. Henriques-Gomes, L. (2020). Bushfires death toll rises to 33 after body found in burnt-out house near Moruya. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/24/bushfires-death-toll-rises-to-33-after-body-found-in-burnt-out-house-near-moruya
  8. Davey, M. (2019). 'Hazardous' air quality from bushfire smoke triggers spike in hospital admissions. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/nov/22/hazardous-air-quality-from-bushfire-smoke-triggers-spike-in-hospital-admissions
  9. SBS News (2020). Tourism strategy promised after bushfires cost the industry $4.5 billion. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/tourism-strategy-promised-after-bushfires-cost-the-industry-4-5-billion
  10. Nordt, C., Warnke, I., Seifritz, E., Kawohl, W. (2015). Modelling suicide and unemployment: a longitudinal analysis covering 63 countries, 2000–11. The Lancet Psychiatry; 2(3): 239-245. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)00118-7/fulltext
  11. HESTA. Retrieved from https://www.hesta.com.au/about-us/what-we-stand-for/responsible-investment/active-ownership.html
  12. HESTA Share Voting Record - Australian Equities Managers 1 July to 31 December 2018. Retrieved from https://www.hesta.com.au/content/dam/hesta/Documents/HESTA_Share_Voting_Record_Australian_Equities_1_Jul_2018_to_31_Dec_2018.pdf
  13. Ambrose, J. (2019). World's biggest sovereign wealth fund to ditch fossil fuels. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jun/12/worlds-biggest-sovereign-wealth-fund-to-ditch-fossil-fuels