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Share the Pain: On the President's Climate Change Speech

As an environmental mediator working on intractable conflicts over natural resource use and policy, I am committed to being neutral on the issues before me. We mediators like to say we are advocates for the process – a good, inclusive, fair process – but with no bias when it comes to the substance of the conflict. Does this mean we are robots, with no preferences, no passion, no deeply held beliefs? Of course not. I have a variety of membership cards in my wallet, and I keep them to myself when I’m working. Friends who know me to be a passionate person are sometimes amazed that I can keep my own biases under wraps when faced with the “opposition” in a case. For me it is easy. I see the needs, the fears, the hopes, the common human characteristics that connect us all.  There is (almost always) no “good guy” or “bad guy” for me when I am working. In this way I feel a kinship with President Obama, because I believe he shares that perspective. In his climate change speech, he suggested that the solution to reducing carbon pollution did not need to result in winners and losers, no bad guys, no good guys, just all of us working together. A healthy economy and a healthy environment can go hand in hand. It will be a difficult path, and there will be casualties along the way, but it can be done. We need to share the pain, as we have all benefited from the past decades of unwise energy policies and practices. We also need, he said, to take responsibility and exercise leadership on behalf of not only our country, but the planet. Is this realistic, or just a dream? Could we really all work together, equitably, with patience and understanding? I don’t know, but it is what I always hold in my mind when I am in the middle of a heated conflict. And sometimes it does happen. It is important to keeping holding that image, to keep repeating the goal, to keep inspiring each other with good words and actions.