Environmentalists take anti-Exxon message to TV

The commercial heading for TV starts out with the line, “Here at Exxon, we hate your children.” Hint: It’s not made by ExxonMobil.

The ad is part of a campaign by environmentalists to end what they characterize as more than $10 billion in annual subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, given in the form of tax breaks and loopholes.

That number is higher than other estimates that put the benefits of tax breaks for major oil companies at closer to $4 billion.

The ad began appearing online a month ago, but will be heading for TV for the first time on Friday. It will air on MSNBC in specific markets during The Rachel Maddow Show and Up With Chris Hayes for broadcasts in Washington, New York and Denver, according to a press release.

The ad is sponsored by Oil Change International, The Other 98% and Environmental Action.

David Turnbull, campaigns director at Oil Change International, acknowledged fossil fuels power much of the world, including many of the vehicles environmentalists drive, but he believes the U.S. government should not be subsidizing their production.

“We need to stop incentivizing energy sources that ruin our future,” Turnbull said.

Kimberly Brasington, a spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil, said the media campaign was misleading and offensive.

“Energy use and climate change are critically important challenges facing society that won’t be resolved with media campaigns that rely on provocative language and false allegations,” Brasington said. “The campaign is offensive to the thousands of Exxon Mobil employees and contractors who work hard every day to deliver an essential product in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”

Jack Gerard, president of the industry-backed lobbying group American Petroleum Institute, has repeatedly argued that the industry does not get subsidies. He has characterized the tax benefits the industry receives as similar to tax deductions given to other industries.

The API did not respond to a request for comment on the ad.

Turnbull said the campaign decided to first target a friendly audience on MSNBC, which regularly airs advertisements from oil companies. The goal is to awaken opposition to the subsidies and then expand the commercials to other networks, if financially possible, he said. The group raised about $12,500 so far through 328 contributors to pay for the ads.

“Those subsidies are actually subsidizing a future that’s disastrous and so that’s what we’re trying to raise the alarm around and rally some noise around,” he said.

The ad portrays an executive speaking frankly about his company’s disregard for the environment and interest in profits, set to easy listening elevator music.

“I think one of the sort of messages that we’re trying to convey is the sort of tone and matter-of-factness of the oil industry’s public messaging on the work that they do, which is startling to us because their business model is based on a planet that is simply not livable in the future,” Turnbull said. “There’s something wrong there and we wanted to portray that in this sort of satirical way,” he added.