Remember when you were a kid. It was August, and the summer was a thousand years long. You’d take your bicycle out past Society Road to the swimming hole on a hot day. That’s where you met Libby. Just friends then, but it felt like something else.

The next year, your older brother went on a college bus tour. He left his rebuilt Alfa convertible, but you knew where he hid the keys. With a gas tank full of lawn money, you took it out for a spin, and just cruised by Libby’s house. Just to see if she was home. She was. That night you had your first kiss.

Nostalgia can play a positive role in environmental communications. Nostalgia is a wistful or sentimental desire to return to a happier place or time. In the first two paragraphs, did you think back to the time you were a teenager, or your first kiss? This is the effect of story, but it also is the temporal effect of nostalgia.

Matthew Baldwin and Joris Lammers, in their 2017 paper, Past-focused environmental comparisons promote pro-environmental outcomes for conservatives, uncover something interesting about how progressives and conservatives respond to time-based messages.

Here’s a laymen’s summary of what they found. Conservatives responded better to environmental messages when framed in the past, rather than the future. It tended to make no difference for liberals whether the message was framed in the past or the future.

So when liberals say something like, “We must save the environment for our children,” this is a future-based message. It may turn off conservatives. Conservative ideology arose as a resistance to change and a preference for the past over the future.

So what does a past-based frame look like for conservatives? “We need to restore the earth (to its previous balance),” might be an example. This message frame is just as valid for liberals.

A key starter phase for your messaging might be… “Remember when…” This phrase is an imperative and a great set up for a story. I was talking to a conservative friend the other day and I started with the phrase, “Remember when we were kids, and used to go pheasant hunting?” He remembered, and replied, “Yes, what I remember were all the butterflies, the monarchs. Now you don’t see them anymore.” This was followed by a conversation about how they could be restored.

I remember when the skies were bluer. I remember when I didn’t have to worry about my kids drinking water. I remember when there wasn’t so much traffic and pollution.

Remember this… in your environmental messaging.

We are all connected. Savor the earth.


L. Hobart Stocking
Facebook: @SkyWaterEarthConnected
Twitter: @SkyWaterEarth