When Boris Johnson unveiled his 10-point green recovery plan in November, British tabloids were unusually acquiescent.
The British press has a reputation for being more politically partisan than in many other Western countries. Tabloids like The Sun and The Daily Express tend to be firmly on the right of the political divide. They’ve also been vehemently skeptical of climate change. But, happily, things are changing. That moment in November was a turning point. Some right-leaning newspapers criticized the prime minister’s plan to ban the sale of new fossil fueled cars, but none questioned the science behind it. “This is a volte-face of enormous proportions,” said James Painter, who researches the media’s representation of climate change at the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. “Five years ago you would have had the right-leaning press absolutely slamming the prime minister’s announcement.” The Daily Express has been one of the most explicitly skeptical of climate science, famously running a story headlined “100 reasons why global warming is natural.” The Sun featured columns by Breitbart News writer James Delingpole blaming the European Union for causing climate change. Now The Daily Express is campaigning for tax breaks on solar panels while The Sun offers tips to help readers shrink their carbon footprints. Delingpole has been dropped.
The papers say the change was prompted by a realization that their readers are growing more worried about global warming, reports Bloomberg. The latest surveys by YouGov, the market research firm, show Brits are now more concerned about the environment than they are about crime or immigration.
The publications’ backing of Johnson’s green campaign may also help bolster support for stronger policies. It’s difficult for the media to change peoples’ minds about a topic, but it can reinforce existing views through repetition, said Painter. In the case of climate change, the tabloids are a good barometer of how public opinion has shifted, and the good news is that it's a sign it will probably continue to move in that direction.