“Will the Science March Wither Away like the Women’s March?” is the headline right now on the website for Science Magazine. Which is a good question with a sad likely answer. Unlike the March for Science, the Women’s March, and probably the upcoming People’s March for Climate (which all have huge turnouts but no new message), the Earth Optimism Summit delivered a clear new message which was, “Time to focus on success.” The event was a solid success and a case study in how to “advance the narrative” for environmentalism. Kudos to Dr. Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution, the visionary behind the entire Earth Optimism narrative. Whether Earth Optimism actually will change things remains to be seen, but for now, it achieved the essential goal which is “advancing the narrative.”
ADVANCING THE NARRATIVE: IT’S ABOUT HAVING A NEW ARGUMENT TO MAKE
That’s what narrative is about, at its core — having an argument that you keep refreshing over time. The three day Earth Optimism Summit last weekend in Washington DC wasn’t the typical hot air gathering of eggheads. This is because of one main reason: It had a clear new message. The message was, in simple terms, “Enough with the bad news, let’s focus on where we’re succeeding in protecting nature.”
Contrast this with the March for Science which had no clear message except the same old “science is good.” And compare to what you get at most conservation meetings — no clear message other than the obvious one of “we need to save nature” (duh). Earth Optimism had a narrative that calls for a SPECIFIC new action (to focus on success).
I gave a talk at Earth Optimism (EO) on Friday morning titled, “Narrative is Leadership.” My session was titled, “Inspiring Positive Action.” All four of the talks were indeed inspiring. But they also had something in common with every talk, discussion, pointed comment and biting piece of humor at the entire event. They were all about the argument/message that we need to shift the tone from pessimism to optimism, with the suggested mechanism being “focus on success stories.”
THE DEFINITION OF NARRATIVE
In “Houston, We Have A Narrative,” I defined the word “narrative” as “The series of events that occur in the search for a solution to a problem.” If you apply this to EO you see they are on a clear narrative pathway. The PROBLEM is flagging energy for conservation as people are growing tired and demoralized from the bad news. The SOLUTION is a re-energized populace.
Whether the Earth Optimism Summit’s idea of focusing on solutions is even the right way to achieve this solution remains to be seen. But for now, what is important is that EO is “ADVANCING THE NARRATIVE” (an essential element) meaning it is a step along the way in the search to find the solution to the problem. Getting together to complain about the same old defeats in conservation is the definition of NOT advancing the narrative, which eventually bores and demoralizes everyone.
SO WILL THIS WEEKEND’S PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH ADVANCE THE CLIMATE NARRATIVE?
I doubt it. I’m not hearing anything to suggest they are advancing their narrative. All it looks to be is the same old whining about the climate changing and the right is to blame. That was going on a decade ago in the wake of Al Gore’s movie.
It’s actually similar to what the entire Democratic party is doing right now about Trump — not launching new ideas in an effort to advance their narrative (as Trump did with his “Make America Great Again” theme) — just wallowing in the same stuff.
No, the Democrats at the moment are stuck. They are endlessly fact checking, calling their opponents liars, screaming about how unfair it all is, but not advancing their narrative (for example, the Affordable Care Act — why aren’t they proposing their own means of fixing it?). I guarantee you they will never succeed until they get back onto the narrative journey, creating events that will serve as new stepping stones in the search for the solutions to the problems.
As I said on Friday as loudly as possible, NARRATIVE IS LEADERSHIP.