Why is it that despite 97% of scientists agreeing on climate change, millions of people still claim that it's a hoax? The answer is simple.
The human brain is horrible at dealing with bad situations.
If you don't believe in climate change? It's okay. I get it. I'm not here to bash on anyone who doesn't believe.
I mean let's be honest, the concept is pretty horrifying.
The world is heating up. Ice caps are melting. Ecosystems are being destroyed. Bees are dying. Hurricanes keep popping up. THE ARTIC IS ON FIRE. You don't have to wait for some future dystopia to feel the impacts of climate change.
Thousands if not millions of people are dying every year due to the impacts of climate change.
Wow that's scary. It's not even "bad" yet.
I don't want to believe that. Why should you?
The easy answer is to simply not believe the scientists. Hell, the logical answer is to not believe the science. How could a normal person possibly cope with the anxiety and stress that would result from the literal catastrophic impacts of climate change?
That's why half of the world is freaking out "oh my God we're all going to literally die" and the other half of the world is in complete denial. What you're seeing is how different people deal with stress and anxiety.
We need to help people work through that stress and anxiety so people can fight against climate change more effectively, and those in denial can start to join the fight. Here's how you can use a version of the Three Columns Technique from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to overcome the stress and anxiety of climate change.
Step 1: Identify The Negative Automatic Thought
This part is simple. The negative thought is your reaction to the situation (climate change). For me, the negative thought sounds a lot like this:
Don't focus on challenging the thought, debating climate change, simply identify the automatic thought that is causing you stress or anxiety. For everyone this thought, and how they react to it, is going to be different.
Write this down on a piece of paper, or use an app that lets you do CBT.
Step 2: Identify The Cognitive Distortions
A cognitive distortion is like a logical fallacy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches us that most of the anxiety, stress, and depression in the world can be tied back to distortions in our cognition.
There's a number of distortions outlined within Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but you can check out a list that explains most of them here.
For my negative automatic thought "The world is heating up and millions of people are going to die" there were three main distortions that I was able to recognize.
#1 All or Nothing Thinking
This distortion is when you are imagining a 0 sum game. Climate change isn't a 0 sum game. It's not going to be either "nobody dies/is impacted" or "everyone dies" in reality the effects of climate change are probably going to be somewhere in the middle.
#2 Emotional Reasoning
Just because you feel something, doesn't mean that it's true. It doesn't matter if I feel afraid, that doesn't mean that millions of people are going to die.
This can also come into play when a politician you don't like says something. You might hate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and everything she stands for, but that doesn't mean climate change is a hoax.
#3 Fortune Telling
This is when you are predicting the future. Maybe millions of people will die. Maybe we'll figure out how to beat climate change. Who knows. Anxiety and stress about the future doesn't help us to tackle the problem at hand and fight climate change.
Step 3: Challenge Your Automatic Thought
Now challenge the negative automatic thought using the distortions you were able to recognize. Write this part down. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is effective because it literally rewires the neural pathways in your brain.
Personally I've always thought Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was a little like learning to spell or keeping a journal. Writing things down simply helps you to mentally process them better.
The important concept here is to poke holes in the negative automatic thought using logic, reason, and science. Accept the logical parts of your negative automatic thought, and then search for the parts that aren't logical.
This is where people get tripped up.
A thought that can cause them intense amounts of stress and anxiety enters their head because of climate change, and then they just shut down. They challenge the thought by simply not believing it.
If you don't write it down and seriously think it over, it's all too easy to dismiss the anxiety and stress by simply not believing anything is true.
Step 4: Write Your Alternative Thought
The alternative thought is a healthier thought that you want to think, instead of the one that's causing you the stress and anxiety.
What's really cool about Cognitive Behavior Therapy is that if you do this exercise enough, you stop thinking the bad thoughts that cause you to be unhappy, and you start to think the alternative thoughts that you've been writing down.
Climate change IS real. The world IS warming up. But we don't have to let the anxiety and stress from the situation cause us to shut down and simply deny that it's happening. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help us work through this stress and anxiety so we can focus on tackling the problem in the best way possible.
I hope you found this article both entertaining AND educational.
Feel free to share it with anyone who needs some help dealing with climate change 😉or anything else that's causing them to be unhappy.
Koby Conrad - Co-Founder of Quirk
Koby is the Co-Founder of Quirk and loves to write about mental health tech, startups, advertising and marketing. He has a very strong background in consumer products and how psychological factors impact advertising, entrepreneurs, and technology.