“Unnatural disasters.” Owning the moment when extreme weather strikes.

2024 is setting up to become another year of record-breaking extreme weather events. Around the world, from India to Mexico, we have already seen the devastating impacts of extreme heat. In the U.S., millions of Americans are at risk, jeopardizing the people and places that we love. As we enter another summer of spiking extreme weather, it’s never been more essential to awaken the public to its causes and accelerate progress toward the solutions.

Yet, while Americans increasingly notice that the weather is changing, they don’t always connect the dots to climate change.

That’s Interesting…

In fact, half believe the changes to be “natural.” For many, when it comes to extreme weather, a perception shift is necessary:
Extreme Weather: from natural to unnatural

Fresh language can build understanding around the problem and generate enthusiasm for the solutions. After testing over 200 extreme weather message territories, we found a platform that outperforms. It’s plainspoken, meets people where they are, and, for audiences across the ideological spectrum, makes it clear that this increase in extreme weather is anything but natural:

“Unnatural disasters”

This simple phrase turns the notion of “natural disasters” on its head and opens the door to conversations about the true cause: fossil fuels. It’s rooted in provocative but politically neutral language that can capture attention without polarizing. For diverse audiences, it felt educational rather than angry or agenda-driven (a challenge with some of the lower-performing messages).

In our message testing, a platform grounded in the notion of “unnatural disasters” boosted support for action on climate change by 10 p.p. overall (12 p.p. with Republicans and 8 p.p. with Democrats). It was also twice as effective at shifting the focus to fossil fuels than the term “extreme weather”–an essential connection to increase support for effective solutions.

Unnatural disasters messaging - Extreme Weather

This term isn’t new. In fact, a paper by the World Meteorological Organization (Hassol, Torok, Lewis, & Luganda) made a call to reframe the conversation to “(un)natural disasters” back in 2016. Rallying around this clarifying and unifying concept can be a powerful way to educate and increase support for climate change solutions.

Helpful tools to inspire action in the wake of “unnatural disasters”

Please join us in spreading the language of “unnatural disasters.” Supported by this extensive research, we’ve created several tools to help us all own the moment when extreme weather strikes. We invite all of our fellow climate communicators to:

  • Access our communications guide, Unnatural disasters: Owning the moment when extreme weather strikes, which shares more of our extreme weather research findings and provides detail on the “unnatural disasters” narrative platform.


  • Visit our Unnatural disasters resource hub, where you’ll find ready-to-run content and helpful messaging guidance.


  • Share widely. The more climate communicators unite around this message, the more effective we’ll be at educating the public and building support for smart policy decisions.


Extreme weather is a tragic reality, but also a profound teaching opportunity. When we meet people where they are and lead with educational content that’s not too angry or agenda-driven, we can bring everybody in, and form connections that endure.


Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful partnership.
John and Jessica


John Marshall John Marshall is the founder and CEO of Potential Energy. John advises global leaders on strategies to effectively communicate about climate solutions, and is a frequent industry commentator and speaker. John’s innovative approach to building public support for climate action is informed by his 30+ years of experience advising the leaders of Fortune 500 companies on branding and marketing.
Jessica Lu Jessica Lu is Associate Director of Strategy and Analytics and leads Potential Energy’s Insights Lab. She leads teams that execute hundreds of message tests and focus groups and perform in-market measurement analytics to unearth what motivates humans to care about climate change. Jessica graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering.