Image

The most effective extreme weather narratives

From dangerous heat to relentless wildfires, extreme weather is everywhere. July 5th was the hottest day ever recorded. July 6th was hotter.

These extreme weather events can motivate action on climate change–if we talk about them in the right way. A few weeks ago, we shared our “3 Tips on How to Talk about Extreme Weather,” which were:

  • Show that extreme weather is caused by climate change,
  • show that it impacts people like me,
  • and tell me what I can do to make things better.

Over the last few weeks, to add precision to our guidance, we went back into the field with seven narratives that built off of the above guidance to answer the question: What works best? On the topic of extreme weather, if you had one message to deliver to an average citizen to get them to support action on climate change, what should it be?

The Contenders

Should you tell people that extreme weather costs American taxpayers billions in damages? Or that it threatens our ability to pass down the things we cherish, like our homes and memories of the outdoors?

Should you tell them that extreme weather events put our supply of food and clean water at risk? Or that they put our quality of life in jeopardy and will make daily life unbearable?

Should you tell them that extreme weather events will only become more severe and frequent as pollution increases and climate change worsens? Or should you find an entity to blame, telling them that extreme weather is worsening due to polluting activities that only a few big corporations are largely responsible for?

Or maybe you should tell them a story–a story about everyday Americans being harmed by today’s extreme weather …

There are so many ways to talk about extreme weather. What narrative is most effective at driving support for action on climate change?

The Results

The great news is, every single narrative drove support for immediate government action on climate change.

Effective Extreme Weather Messaging

But one message rose above the rest.

It was a story. With all the talk about costs and crops, a simple story about Bucky Squier outperformed the pack.

Bucky Squier was just 17 years old when Camp Fire in California terrorized his hometown in 2018. “I have friends who lost their homes in that fire,” he recounts. “My community has pretty much never been the same. I couldn’t even practice cross country for weeks because of the smoke.”

Bucky is just one of many across the country affected by extreme weather. In 2022, 8 in 10 Americans reported being affected by extreme weather. 1 in 4 of those experienced serious health problems.

Pollution is what drives climate change, leading to more frequent and severe extreme weather. Fighting pollution is the solution to limiting climate change and extreme weather.

We need to support action on pollution to protect ourselves and the lives of our loved ones.

After listening to this narrative, participants were 9% more likely to support government action on climate change (and 7% more likely to strongly support).

That’s Interesting

Students of effective story-telling are perhaps not surprised. Human stories stick. Human stories persuade.

The news cycle is starting to sound like a broken record: “record-breaking temperatures,” “hottest month recorded,” and “once-in-a-lifetime storms.” The damages from these extreme weather events are piling up, and it’s impacting us all now.

These worsening climate-related weather events could be a rallying moment for the climate change movement. If we make it about real people, not about abstract concepts.

John and Jessica