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What improv can teach the green community


Improv builds on itself with one simple phrase. What does the green community do?

A friend was talking to me the other day about his improv comedy lessons. According to Ashish, an eye-opening moment in learning to deal with the “unpredictable” on stage is the unwritten rule to always use the phrase “Yes, and…” to begin your turn. Saying “Yes, and” serves two functions. The first is to force you to accept that you have to work with what you’ve been handed. The second is to give yourself the freedom to improvise. There’s even an website.

We lack this sensibility in the green community. Instead, we are constantly warring with each other over the “best” solution to a given problem. Consider just a smattering of the debates we’re currently circulating as a community:

  • Biofuels vs. plug in hybrids
  • Carbon tax vs. cap and trade
  • Cellusoic ethanol vs. biodiesel vs. algae vs. methanol vs. butanol
  • Energy conservation vs. renewable energy

The list goes on and on….

An impartial look at these debates sees honest merit in many potential solutions to our green challenges. Furthermore, the mathematics of just one green issue — climate change — clearly illustrates that the scope of the problem calls for the fast implementation of many possibly imperfect solutions, rather than one perfect one. By 2020 we had better be on track to finding 10 billion tons of carbon reductions per year. Clearly these either/or debates are going to quickly turn into and/and challenges!

Of course, journalists love to write about these squabbles. “So and so from this green group says there are better ways to attack the problem. Instead of this, we should be doing that.”

Of course, the stakes are high and debate can be constructive. Not every proposed solution has equal merit. But when it gets out of hand, the infighting is destructive to enlarging the base of support for green issues. It is also a reason that many people are not quite sure whether they are “environmentalists” even though they care about green issues. But if we’re going to grow “green” into something more than the latest magazine theme, we’re in dire need of attracting many more people to help support us. Maybe you’ve been green for a long time, maybe you’re a newcomer. However long you’ve been involved, you should never forget that most people that get into the environmental community are somewhat shocked and dismayed at the level of acrimony.

So really this a call for our readers and leaders in the green community. The next time you’re interacting with someone’s work, treat it is a stage. Take their contribution, say “Yes, and” and extend the momentum with your own work.

And for those new to the green party, keep us honest. Ask us why we are fighting and make us blush and work together.

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