Climate activists target Bieber Twitter record in push to end oil subsidies

Environmentalists pushing U.S. officials and other nations to end subsidies for fossil fuel industries are hunting big game: Teen pop star Justin Bieber.

The climate advocacy group 350.org and other activists are launching a 24-hour “Twitterstorm” Monday to get as many messages over the social media site as possible using the hashtag #endfossilfuelsubsidies.

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Their goal is to break the record for the most identical social media messages sent over a 24 hour period. According to fan sites and other reports, it currently belongs to Bieber fans who jointly tallied 322,224 of the same messages for Bieber on his 18th birthday in early March.

The effort is timed to coincide with the launch of the G20 meeting in Mexico on Monday, and activists are also highlighting the issue at the upcoming United Nations sustainable development conference, dubbed Rio+20, in Brazil that starts June 20.

“Organizers are confident that even if they can’t beat the Biebs they’ll be able to generate enough traffic to dominate the online airwaves during the G20 and in the lead up to Rio+20,” states 350.org on its website.

Advocates say a serious goal underlies the pop culture trappings of the effort.

350.org is backing federal legislation -- which faces a steep uphill battle -- introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) to nix billions of dollars in tax and royalty incentives for oil companies and other fossil fuel-sector support.

The group and its co-founder, Bill McKibben, have also played a major role in organizing opposition to the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

They want ending fossil fuel subsidies to emerge as a pillar of any formal declaration that emerges from the UN summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Governments and taxpayers jointly spent almost a half-trillion dollars worldwide in 2010 supporting production and consumption of fossil fuels, according to a joint analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Energy Agency last year.

Advocates also want more action from the G20, which pledged to back phase-out of subsidies in 2009 but according to critics has not been nearly aggressive enough.

In the U.S., environmentalists are focused on federal support for fossil fuels production, such as companies' ability to write off drilling costs and take advantage of a lucrative domestic manufacturing deduction.

Efforts by President Obama and Democratic leaders to nix various tax breaks that benefit oil-and-gas companies have sputtered on Capitol Hill amid resistance from Republicans and conservative Democrats.

McKibben on Friday discussed his political strategy, stating that he plans to increasingly seek to target energy companies directly, calling it a precursor to winning policy changes.

Here’s what he said when asked about the effects of the possible reelection of President Obama or a victory by Mitt Romney.

“In either case, we have to probably spend less time worrying about Washington and more time trying to take the battle directly at the fossil fuel industry,” he said on the NPR program On Point with Tom Ashbrook

He called the delay in approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline (the White House has extended the decision timeline into 2013) an exception, not the rule.

“You are not going to win the battle in Washington until you have softened up the fossil fuel industry enough. At the moment, they are the power, the reigning power, we only occasionally get little, temporary wins, like this Keystone thing,” McKibben said. 

In the interview, he also sought to turn the political narrative that casts environmentalists as extremists on its head.

“Radicals work at oil companies. If you get up every day and are willing to alter the chemical composition of the atmosphere in order to make your fortune, then you are engaged in the most radical act that humans have yet figured out how to engage in,” McKibben said.