Tens of Thousands Take to Twitter to End Oil Subsidies

Posted by Sammy Roth

The Rio+20 conference has been criticized by some activists for its vague and less-than-ambitious goals. Perhaps motivated by the low expectations for the summit, tens of thousands of people took to Twitter yesterday with a very specific demand for the global leaders gathering in Brazil: End fossil fuel subsidies. 

The goal of the 24-hour TwitterStorm, which was organized by several environmental groups, is for as many people as possible to tweet using the hashtag #endfossilfuelsubsidies, ideally at one of 16 world leaders who have Twitter accounts. Organizers say that at certain points during the one-day campaign, which began yesterday morning, tweets using #endfossilfuelsubsidies were appearing at a rate of one per second. At its height, the hashtag was the top trending topic in the United States. It was also used by a more than a few luminaries, including actor Mark Ruffalo and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Impressive social media facts and figures aside, though, the hail of tweets is unlikely to have any serious policy effects. The participating countries hope only to agree on a nonbinding declaration of principles, and while the European Union wants a commitment to ending fossil fuel subsidies to be part of that declaration, some countries, like Canada, already oppose the idea. U.S. President Barack Obama, a strong proponent of ending oil subsidies, won’t be attending the conference.

That’s not to say the TwitterStorm is a waste of time; in less than a day, it’s probably made millions of people more aware of the $750 billion to $1 trillion world governments spend subsidizing fossil fuels each year. But as long as we’re using Twitter metrics to judge its success, there’s another statistic figure worth mentioning. Not one of those 16 world leaders has tweeted using #endfossilfuelsubsidies—at least not yet.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons