The great debate of our times can be framed by calling it global warming versus financial collapse. It is a negotiation about the future, not only of the United States, but of the entire world.
As a negotiation coach, one of the key factors that I teach is that the people on the other side of the table are negotiating for their benefit, not for yours. Thus the negotiation is about the benefits they are seeking and, if you can establish your mission and purpose as one that brings benefits to them and get them to perceive that, it's a win-win situation. If not, both sides must walk away from the table.
This is why it is essential that both sides have a vision of what they expect as the outcome of the negotiation. No vision, no action. No vision, no decision. No vision, no agreement.
Right now, global warming advocates have a vision of the world being destroyed by rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that they attribute to human behavior as regards energy use. Those who disagree with this vision counter with scientific evidence that CO2 is a very small element of the atmosphere, only 0.038%, and there is no measurable evidence that it affects climate change.
One side negotiates from a deeply felt sense of danger to the environment. The other counters with a body of scientific data and the view that the Earth's climate is complex and largely determined by natural factors such as the Sun and the oceans. They cite the fact that the Earth has been in a cooling cycle for about a decade. They point out that the oceans both trap and release CO2 and always have.
Their separate visions can never find a common ground. This is a negotiation and public debate going nowhere but, if recent polls are any indicator there is an increasing percentage of the public that has come to regard the issue of global warming as propaganda and who find Al Gore almost comical.
The reason for this is the other great negotiation occurring and that is about a more tangible danger, the collapse of the national and worldwide financial system, now so closely interlinked as to potentially create the kind of chaos that no single government can address or wants. It is highly destabilizing and in the 1930s was partially responsible for the rise of totalitarian regimes. It was the advent of WWII that is credited with ending the U.S. depression.
In all negotiations, one must have a vision of a current problem to be solved. The real problem, the potential financial collapse, has led Congress in both the last and current administrations to act hastily to initiate efforts to avoid it. While Americans want action, the negotiation and debate at present is about the best way to bring the problem under some measure of control. The extreme partisanship in Congress has negated all negotiation.
What Americans are overlooking, however, is the role of elections which, by 2010, may reverse the political polarity in Congress. This will have a mitigating affect if the public determines that the current Democrat Congress and administration's answers to the problem are incorrect.
What we know, no matter our affiliation, is that both political parties have been contributing factors to the present problem. We know, too, that a segment of the population, those who took on mortgages which they were unable to afford, is also part of the problem and we know that banking and investment institutions, acting within the existing rules of the system, distorted the capitalist system on which we all depend.
No negotiation can succeed if it is based on blame. Everything depends on a common vision of the problem. Nor can a negotiation succeed if it is based on the fatal mistake that mere rhetoric can convince enough people to agree on a specific solution. Facts are stubborn things.
So, as the global warming debate recedes in the minds of the public and the financial crisis becomes the primary focus, the nation will engage in a great debate and negotiation over the solution and this will be achieved when the majority of Americans come to an understanding of the problem in a visceral way before they can determine a solution in a rational way.
The sooner Americans arrive at a clear vision of both issues, the sooner they will arrive at a solution and this will be communicated to both Congress and the White House via a vigorous public debate.