Writing Letters to the Editor and Opeds

Letters to the editor and opeds are a great way to raise the issue of fossil fuel divestment. Remember, your letter or oped should be unique — don’t just copy and paste from this guide or our website!

Printable Communications Guide (pdf)

Letters to the Editor

The best letters often have a compelling hook, then get quickly to the point, and wrap things up in short order. This isn’t a tweet, but you’re more likely to get published the more succinct you can be. To submit a letter, just search for your college newspaper online and find the submission information in their Opinion or Contact section.

Here are some themes to touch on in your letter:

  • If you’re writing as alumni, make sure to include when you graduated
  • Describe how investing in the fossil fuel industry is antithetical to the values of the college
  • If you were involved in previous divestment movements, reference those efforts
  • Try and touch on extreme weather, the fossil fuel industry, and the need to divest
  • Try and work in climate impacts that are local to your college
  • If you’re thinking of holding back a donation or taking some sort of other action, mention that in your letter

Below is a list of additional talking points that you can include in your letter.

Here is a sample letter:

Dear Editor,

Middlebury’s reputation as an environmental leader is threatened by the college continuing to invest its endowment in fossil fuel companies. Climate change is already loading the dice for extreme weather events like last year’s Hurricane Irene, which battered much of Vermont. Now, recent reports show that the fossil fuel industry has five times more carbon in their reserves than scientists say we can burn and still keep warming below 2°C, a target that every country on earth has agreed to. Fossil fuel divestment is a clear way for Middlebury to live up to its values and help society address this crisis. As a regular donor to the college, I want to be assured that my money isn’t being invested in companies that are wrecking the planet that future Middlebury students — and all of our children — will inherit.

Sincerely,

Jamie Henn, Class of 2007

Good luck, and be sure to share a link with us if your letter gets published online!

Sample Opinion Piece or Editorial

Just like a letter to the editor, opinion pieces are a great way to raise the issue of fossil fuel divestment. A good opinion piece often has a compelling hook, clearly lays out the argument you’re trying to make, includes a few relevant facts and figures (ideally ones that might surprise the reader), and adds in a personal anecdote or reflection to make the piece come alive.

A great way to practice writing an oped is to go and read a few in your favorite news outlets. You’ll probably begin to see patterns in the ways that people write.

Check out the messaging arc and talking points below to think about how you could structure your own opinion piece. And if you do submit one, make sure to let us know about it — especially if it gets published!

Click here for a sample oped that was recently published in the Cornell Daily Sun by a recent graduate.

Messaging Arc & Talking Points

Messaging Arc 

Another useful tool is a messaging arc. Think of this as the core narrative you want to share with people when they ask you a general question about your campaign. Each point works on its own, but it’s best when you can tie it together. We’ve given you a super short and more extended messaging arc below.

Short:

  1. We’re calling on colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel corporations.
  2. It’s immoral to be invested in companies that are causing the climate crisis and spending millions of dollars to block solutions.
  3. Divestment is a clear way for educational institutions to live up to their values and help society address the climate crisis.


Longer:

  1. Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and the drought, heat-wave, and wildfires that ravaged much of America this year, are potent reminders that we need to act now in order to avoid climate catastrophe.
  2. Scientists have defined “catastrophe” as any global warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius. We can emit roughly another 500 gigatons of carbon dioxide and still stay below 2 degrees. But the fossil fuel industry has 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide in their reserves. In other words, they’re burning five times more carbon than it’s safe to burn.
  3. We have the clean energy solutions necessary to prevent climate catastrophe, but we’re never going to see the political action needed to put them into place unless we can weaken the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on Washington.
  4. Every year, the fossil fuel industry spends millions of dollars to spread misinformation about climate change, warp our political progress, and block clean energy solutions. They’re greed for profit is threatening the entire planet.
  5. In the past, colleges, along with cities, states, religious institutions, and pension funds, have divested from rogue industries, like Big Tobacco,  or immoral regimes, such as Apartheid South Africa. Now, it’s time to divest from fossil fuels.
  6. Divestment is a clear way for educational institutions to live up to their values and help society address the climate crisis.

Talking Points 

Here are some additional talking points that can help you make the case for divestment:

  • Hurricane Sandy and the recent string of extreme weather events make it clear that we’re running out of time to avoid climate catastrophe.
  • Every year, the fossil fuel industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt our political process and block any action on climate change. They’re profiting while our children and communities pay the price.
  • We shouldn’t be putting our money into an industry that is polluting our planet and corrupting our democracy.
  • This is particularly true for colleges and universities. We shouldn’t be paying for our students education with investments that will destroy the planet they’re going to inherit.
  • It’s time for colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
  • Complete divestment is difficult, so we’ve made it easier. We’re asking for an immediate freeze on new investments in the fossil fuel industry and for a complete phase out over the next five years. This is not only manageable, it’s the right thing to do.
  • There’s no doubt that the fossil fuel industry is profitable, that’s because they’ve been able to pollute for free and make us pay the cost for years.
  • But there are lots of ways to make money beyond fossil fuels, whether it’s in other profitable investments, putting money into new clean energy technology, or investing in greening campus infrastructure.
  • The bottom line is that divestment is the only moral choice for institutions that care about the economy, society, and planet their students are going to inherit.
  • In the 1980s, 155 campuses and a number of major pension funds, cities, and corporations divested from apartheid South Africa, helping accelerate that country’s journey to freedom.
  • Now, we need to declare our freedom from fossil fuels. Divestment is the first step.

We’re excited to get this debate about fossil fuel divestment going around the country and each of your editorials will help us hone our arguments. Make sure to share them with us at divest@350.org as they get published.