“Yes And” Vs. “Yes But”

I read an article recently that advocated abandoning the “yes, but” paradigm for a “yes, and” paradigm. “Yes, but” drives us to become fixated on obstacles and difficulties. “Yes, but we tried that before.” “Yes, but we don’t have the technology.” “Yes, but people won’t change.”

“Yes, and” on the other hand drives us to see the relationships that make things possible. “Yes, and we can also alleviate the waste disposal problem.” “Yes, and we can also use it for communications.” “Yes, and this is something that community groups can lead.”

I found a good example of “yes, and” this weekend at the local Tilth Harvest Fair here in Seattle.

By now it’s becoming well known that people, especially women, in the developing world are spending hours each day walking to the receding forest – often a National Park – for firewood. Those hours represent increasing poverty because they are hours spent away from activities such as gardening, food preparation, and cloth making, that used to make those peoples self-sufficient. And today, those hours also represent time not available for education. The search for firewood has become a treadmill to oblivion.

On top of this, the exposure to smoke from early childhood leads to disproportionate incidents of lung diseases and conditions among those people. And the inefficient wood burning contributes to climate change far out of proportion to the energy consumed. Enter Dr. Paul Anderson.

Dr. Anderson is an “independent stover” working with the Biomass Energy Foundation. He wanted to address this problem of Third World firewood, and came up with an elegant “yes, and” solution. He designed something called the Top Lit Up Draft (TLUD) Gasifier stove that not only burns a plethora of agricultural wastes, but does it efficiently (minimizing the volume of fuel needed) and cleanly (minimizing lung-irritating smoke.) Finally, it actually sequesters carbon in a material called biochar that serves to enrich soils. By any standard, this is a miracle invention. But add to it that the TLUD can be made with readily available materials in the developing nations, and you can see what a miracle it really is.

The TLUD works by “burning” fuel in a lower chamber with a controllable air supply. I say “burning” in a loose sense. It’s actually pyrolysis, the liberation of combustible gases from the solid fuel. Controlling the air supply allows you to prevent actual burning of the fuel. The gases then travel upward to a point where a second air inlet allows enough air to enter that the liberated gases ignite and burn, creating the heat for cooking or heating. The solid part of the fuel, meanwhile, remains in the lower chamber where it is reduced to almost pure carbon – “biochar” - which is then damped to stop oxidation, and cooled.

This “biochar” has been shown to be a fabulous soil amendment. It is not actually absorbed by the plants, but holds moisture, provides aeration, and acts as a microhabitat for beneficial soil organisms. Archeological evidence from Central and South America indicates that Pre-columbian civilizations used biochar extensively. In fact, the presence of biochar is being used as a metric to determine the extent of agricultural development and populations. And the evidence indicates that the carbon in the biochar is not released for hundreds or even thousands of years.

You can read about Dr. Anderson’s TLUD here. But even better, start thinking of your own “Yes, and” strategies, and let’s see where we can go.

Paul Birkeland lives in Seattle, WA, US, and develops Strategic Energy Management Systems for government, commercial, and industrial organizations through Integrated Renewable Energy.

Graphic: Seachar.org