Health pensions must divest of fossil fuels

This article was written by Mike Apostol, Travis Frampton, Mike Kurz, and Magdalene Winterhoff and originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on July 7, 2022.

Recently, 130 Australian health-care workers noisily walked away from their pension plan. Why would health-care workers walk away from a valuable retirement savings scheme? Because their pension fund, HESTA, still has billions invested in fossil fuels.

Here in Ontario, we sat up and took notice — because our pension fund, the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), holds at minimum $1.1 billion in oil, gas, coal and pipeline companies. As health-care workers, we cannot tolerate having our retirement savings invested in the fossil fuels that are stoking the climate emergency.

We’re writing as a registered nurse, as health sector energy professionals and as a retired oncology social worker. As health workers, all of us are especially attuned to the impacts of the climate crisis. A recent Health Canada report forecast what’s coming. Medical emergencies will strain our health systems during increasingly frequent and severe storms, heatwaves, floods and wildfires. We’ll operate hospitals during power outages, straining our backup generators’ reliability and our energy expenses. The sick and elderly will seek our care while under wildfire evacuation orders. We’ll see more people with asthma attacks triggered by forest fire smoke, more people suffering heat exhaustion, more people whose housing has become precarious due to flood damage. And we’ll be on the front lines of the mental-health impacts as the climate crisis disrupts our lives and induces anxiety about our future.

Our health system is already at a breaking point even without these climate-related impacts. Morally, we can’t stomach our pension savings fuelling the climate crisis. And financially, we can’t afford it.

November 2021 analysis of large public pension funds in Canada showed that all of the funds analyzed would have seen larger returns if they had excluded oil and gas from their portfolio 10 years ago. We have to wonder why HOOPP believes it’s looking out for our financial future when it invests at least $1.1 billion in an industry that continues to pump more carbon pollution into the atmosphere every year. It doesn’t help that one of the trustees of our pension fund is a corporate director of one of Canada’s largest privately-held oil and gas companies.

We want our health-care pension to lead on climate. We know HOOPP can act decisively and expediently: HOOPP has excluded tobacco from its portfolio, recognizing the inconsistency of a health-care pension investing in a deadly product. HOOPP rapidly moved to place an exclusion on Russian investments in response to the catastrophic invasion of Ukraine. So it makes sense for HOOPP to respond decisively and rapidly to the greatest ever threat to the health of the planet.

Around the world, other health care pension funds are setting an example. The fund for Australian health care workers blacklists investments in thermal coal companies. The 278-billion pound pension fund for Dutch health-care workers requires fossil fuel companies to have a “convincing and verifiable” strategy to reach the goals of the Paris climate agreement or be removed from the fund’s portfolio.

We invite other health workers and retirees to tell HOOPP how you feel about its fossil fuel investments. We’ve sent letters to our fund managers, trustees and union leaders. We’ve worked with colleagues at the Community Health Climate Action Initiative to call on HOOPP to phase out fossil fuels.

For the sake of our health, our collective future and our retirement security, we need HOOPP to show it’s taking the climate emergency seriously.

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