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How to convince a conservative climate change skeptic

Forget about the future. If you want to change minds, talk about the past.
Republican president-elect Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax. New research shows people holding conservative views are more likely to accept climate change if the message is framed around the good old days. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The value of framing information in a particular way, for a specific audience, is something marketers and advertisers have long since figured out. This type of targeted messaging is useful in all types of situations.

Psychologist Dr. Matthew Baldwin and colleagues at the University of Cologne, in Germany, have considered how re-framing language around climate change increases its appeal for specific parts of the population. 

In a new study, Baldwin has found that Americans who are politically conservative and tend to be skeptical about climate change, are more likely to be persuaded by statements that connect climate change with a cherished, idyllic past. 

A new study suggests that recalling images of pristine beauty and an idyllic past are more likely to prompt people with a conservative mindset to act on climate change initiatives. (Tichnor Brothers, Publisher - Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection #73994)

In contrast, liberals, or progressives, respond to both 'past-focused' messages and to appeals that talk about the future.

Baldwin's analysis showed that past comparisons bridged the political gap by 77 per cent. In some cases the political divide was even reversed: conservatives liked past-focused environmental appeals more than liberals did. 

This isn't all that surprising, given that conservative ideology is averse to change and holds traditional values. But it is valuable to understand in a world that's increasingly politically polarized, and where the environmental problems brought on by climate change seem to be worsening. 

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