Environments past: Nostalgia in environmental policy and governance

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A variety of factors shape environmental policy and governance (EPG) processes, from perceptions of physical ecology and profit motives to social justice and concerns with landscape aesthetics. Many scholars have examined the role of values in EPG, and demonstrated that attempts to incorporate (especially) non-market values into EPG are loaded with both practical and conceptual challenges. Nevertheless, it is clear that non-market values of all types play a crucial role in shaping EPG outcomes. In this article we explore the role of nostalgia as a factor in EPG. We examine literatures on environmental values, governance and affect in light of their relationships with environmental policymaking, first as a means to decide whether or not nostalgia can be rightly described as an ‘environmental value’. We suggest that, from a philosophical perspective, nostalgia is by itself environmentally neutral, and is not usefully described as a ‘value’. However, as an emotional state that longs to preserve or recover something of the past - whether fading or no longer present - that is fondly remembered, nostalgia does represent a potentially strong ‘motivator’ for EPG decisions. Despite this somewhat ambivalent assessment of nostalgia as an environmental value, we argue that nostalgia and nostalgic longing to return to ‘better’ or ‘cleaner’ environments can lead to potentially significant impacts on ecosystems and landscapes, both positive and negative depending on what it is that people want to preserve or restore. Thus we conclude that we neglect understanding the role of nostalgia in EPG at our peril: first, because preservationist goals have always been an important part of environmental responsibility; and second, because many people will be swayed regarding environmental action through a mobilisation of nostalgia by political leaders and interest groups alike. We end our article with suggestion of avenues for further empirical investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-324
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironmental Values
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Philosophy


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