Winning the Frame Game

Susan Nall Bales shows progressives how to inspire the public with important ideas

| July / August 2003

When Washington communications consultant Susan Nall Bales talks to environmental groups, she tells them that they can’t fix government policies until they become more conscious of the stories they’re telling and the hidden chains of reasoning these stories can set off in people’s minds.

In explaining their issues, environmentalists tend to predict a wide range of disasters: catastrophic weather, species extinction, tropical pests heading north, you name it. (The classic example is probably Paul Ehrlich’s best-selling 1968 book, The Population Bomb, which began: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.”) The question is not whether environmentalists have science on their side; many of today’s disaster forecasts, such as global warming, may well be accurate. But Bales demonstrates why doomsday scenarios, factual or not, alienate the public.