As individuals, we’re in crisis with climate change. Perhaps without even knowing it, we’re carrying a heavy burden of concern around the state of the environment. There’s a combination of feeling helpless to do anything about it, coupled with a constant barrage of headlines about impending doom. Coming to the conclusion there’s more than one way to face climate anxiety, entrepreneur Jessica Lybeck and her co-founders at UnF*** the Future app have developed a way to lighten the climate anxiety burden while encouraging positive action in a fun and engaging way. 

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Three people sitting on an orange couch, two men and a woman, they are the creators of an app that tackles climate change with humor

It all started eight years ago when Lybeck brought her climate concerns up during a therapy session. In turn, her therapist recommended she take action to help calm her nerves. So she leaned into her environmentalist tendencies and spent the next six years changing jobs as she worked towards something that would help her achieve that goal. In addition, she says she put a lot of intention into reducing her carbon footprint and waste at home.

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All her efforts didn’t seem to help, especially as she had more frequent conversations with family, friends and colleagues. In some ways, it got worse. She just couldn’t shake the feeling that, as a society, we’re f***ed and countless others felt the same way. 

Research backs that up. According to a recent poll by the APA, “the percentage of Americans who agree climate change is probably or definitely affecting their mental health increased from 47% in 2019 to 68% in 2020.” That’s not too surprising, considering the state of affairs 2020 brought our way. 

Here is where UnF*** the Future (UFTF) enters with a Chrome extension that adds value to your life as you scroll past doomsday climate topics. Lybeck and the team launched the app this past summer at the same time wildfires, floods, record temperatures and other climate disasters loomed in the pollution-filled air. 

Lybeck said the profanity was deliberate in the name. It was important to the team that the name presents the urgency without mincing words.

“The earth’s on fire, oceans are rising and 1% of the people on the planet are largely responsible for a looming human extinction,” she said. “We’re pissed off and you should be too.” 

A graphic of a computer screen with cartoon glaciers below it and a text pop-up bubble in its corner

The app with “an unprintable name” reacts when users are reading news articles with certain keywords such as “unprecedented drought” or “habitat devastation.” The messages that pop up as a result are just as snarky as the name of the extension.

Using humor has been scientifically proven to help people switch from a feeling of overwhelm to a more balanced state where they can take action. A recent study showed that humor helped 90% of subjects “positively process negative emotions regarding global warming” and “sustain hope.”  Encouragingly, 83% of subjects said they felt their commitment to taking action on climate change was stronger — and more likely to last.

The intent is to counter the vibe readers internalize while consuming negative climate news. In addition to lightening the mood, the one-minute interruption provides valuable climate action opportunities. It’s the antidote for reading about pollution, waste, water shortages, natural disasters and wildlife loss, countering it with actionable advice to make the reader feel empowered about their role in the fight against climate change. 

“The tone [of UFTF] keeps things light and makes taking action so easy and fun,” said Jane Pennoyer, a UFTF beta user. “When I’m on a depressing article, it’s so refreshing to be able to do something.”

Based out of Denver, Colorado, the UFTF team joins a host of other companies aiming to empower citizens to make systemic changes, and to demand the same from politicians, businesses and other community leaders. The company, like many others, realizes that achieving real change means involving everyone. While working on reducing individual footprints can help in many areas, more notable change comes from larger industries such as manufacturing, tourism and construction, to name a few. 

“We need to realize that constituents and consumers hold the power,” said UFTF Cofounder Beth Birchfield. “We just need better tools to get past the overwhelm of climate headlines to direct our limited time and energy to take action. Humor is my favorite bridge to get there.”

In addition to lowering personal climate impacts, encouraging the government and other policy leaders to set new standards is another way individuals can guide effective change. In other words, we need to hold, “both politicians and business leaders accountable for their part in the climate crisis.”

UFTF identified other useful tools that encourage environmental engagement.

“Among the tools that have emerged is Climate Action Now, an app that lets individuals plant trees for taking actions such as signing petitions or tweeting politicians,” said UFTF. “UFTF co-founder’s first app, Remark, helps individuals send sustainability feedback to CEOs. Social media platforms like GoodEmpire, We Don’t Have Time and Buycott call attention to actions individuals can take to collectively address climate and social issues.”


Images via UFTF and Pexels