The number of editorials in British newspapers about restarting fracking grew by 1,400% from 2021 to 2022, according to new analysis.
Nuclear power experienced an equally spectacular growth in prominence year after year. Meanwhile, the number of editorials on renewable energy grew less slowly, and there was a decline in the number of leading articles on climate change in general.
The findings, published by climate science site Carbon Brief, indicate that the activist group Just Stop Oil succeeded in its goal of generating press attention.
Carbon Brief published analysis last year showing that British newspaper editorials calling for climate action had quadrupled in the three years to 2021.
[Read more: UK newspaper support for action on climate change has surged since 2019]
On Wednesday Carbon Brief and Exeter PhD researcher Sylvia Hayes published an updated analysis incorporating data from 2022. The publication found that of 413 editorials published by UK national newspapers in 2022 covering climate and energy, 149 relate to nuclear power, fracking or renewable energy, more than doubling the number by 2021.
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Attention to nuclear power, in particular, has accelerated over the past five years. According to Carbon Brief, there were four editorials on the energy source in 2018, eight in 2019, 13 in 2020, 27 in 2021 and 68 in 2022.
Not only was nuclear power the most talked about form of power generation in UK editorials in 2022, it received more editorials last year than fracking or renewables at any time since it began the period assessed by Carbon Brief in 2011.
Although it received fewer editorials overall, fracking saw even more attention, rising from four mentions in the leaders in 2021 to 60 in 2022. Meanwhile, renewable energy received a more modest 56 editorials in 2022, up from 52 in 2021.
All three energy approaches received more editorial mentions in 2022 than in any other year evaluated by Carbon Brief.
Alongside the growing attention to fracking, there was a surge among right-leaning papers in support for restarting the practice in the UK. In 2022 there were more than twice as many editorials actively supporting fracking (59) as in the next highest year, 2013 (23). On Sunday alone, The Sun and Sun published 32 editorials in favor of fracking in 2022.
Carbon Brief said: “The practice was pitched as a way to reduce dependence on expensive gas from Russia and other foreign nations. By far the most common theme, appearing in 54 of the 69 editorials that mentioned fracking, was be the need for shale gas to meet the UK’s energy needs.” (The site was critical of that framework, however, saying shale “could yield significant energy security or price benefits.”)
The approving debate on nuclear energy also grew. The authors of the report said: “In 2022, 46% of energy-related editorials analyzed spoke positively about nuclear power, the highest proportion ever recorded in Carbon Brief’s analysis.”
But the percentage of energy-related editorials in favor of renewables fell from 57% to 38%, and those hostile increased from 7% to 15%. Carbon Brief attributed the changes to right-leaning documents “which emphasize the ‘unreliability’ of wind and solar power to meet the UK’s energy needs”.
More broadly, there were 126 editorials in UK newspapers in 2022 about climate change in general, up from 185 the previous year. 2022 was the fourth year in a row that Carbon Brief found no editorials rejecting the existence of climate change or the science behind it, even though there was a rise in opposition to climate action.
“Criticism was reserved for a handful of pet issues among these right-wing papers,” the authors wrote. “These include the perceived high costs of pursuing climate policies and ‘eco-idiot’ protesters pushing for more ambitious climate action in the UK.”
This was particularly true of Just Stop Oil, the protest group whose non-violent disruptive tactics – most famously, blocking roads – drew the ire of much of the press.
“If one of the group’s goals was to attract media attention, they have succeeded. Carbon Brief analysis of the editorial database shows that, in its first year of operation, Just Stop Oil has attracted more outraged editorials in the UK’s right-wing newspapers than even Extinction Rebellion managed amid its blockades on 2019”.
[Read more: Protections needed for journalists after Just Stop Oil protest arrests, Parliament told]
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