Baseball players refer to the section of the bat that is best for hitting the ball as the “sweet spot.”
More generally the sweet spot refers to an optimum point or combination of factors or qualities. It is the point we strive for in our lives to maximize our well-being. And the same is true for our environment. When it is in balance we are more likely to hit the sweet spot in our lives and for the world’s ecosystems.
There is also a sweet spot for greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent global warming and the likely resulting disastrous effects of climate change.
There are those who remain skeptical or outright deny that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of our changing climate.
On Nov. 8, Kathleen Harnett White, President Trump’s nominee to serve as chair of the Council of Environmental Quality, testified at her Senate confirmation hearing. She said she is unconvinced by a new government assessment that reaffirms man-made carbon emissions as the primary cause of climate change because carbon dioxide is “an atmospheric gas” that serves as a “plant nutrient,” not a pollutant. Others have made similar statements that are dismissive of the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change being caused by humans burning fossil fuels. It is true that carbon dioxide is a plant nutrient. In fact, carbon is the basic element of all life on earth. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a pollutant.
A pollutant is a substance or condition that contaminates air, water or soil. Pollutants can be artificial substances, such as pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls, or naturally occurring substances, such as petroleum or carbon dioxide, that occur in harmful concentrations in a given environment. The key here is that a pollutant can be any substance that occurs in harmful concentrations in a given environment, such as excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Therefore, any substance in the wrong amount at the wrong time can be a pollutant whether or not it is essential for life.
There are many other elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, iron, that are essential for the compounds that are needed in our bodies for us to live, but are pollutants when in the environment at the wrong concentrations at the wrong place and time. We all know that water is essential for life, but this doesn’t mean that in all places and at all times water is good. In the environment, too much water causes floods and too little leads to droughts and if we have too much water in our lungs we will drown or if we don’t have enough in our bodies we will die from dehydration.
There is a sweet spot for all things in our lives including naturally occurring and essential-for-life elements.
The tactic of spreading confusion and raising doubt by using partial truths has been used in the past by special interests to sow misperceptions in the public about the harmful effects of smoking and other issues. Let us not be fooled again. This obfuscation prevents us from truly addressing the issue.
The discussion on climate change should be about the severity of its effects and whether we will be able to adapt quickly enough to prevent or mitigate them. At a minimum it seems that we should be implementing what are called win-win or no-regrets policies that simultaneously address climate change and other environmental issues. Examples include simultaneously addressing air pollution and greenhouse gases and promoting carbon sequestration (storage) in our forests and soils leading to improved forest and soil health.
However, these actions will not be enough to meet the best current scientific recommendation to limit the increase in average global temperature to below 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. Reaching this goal will require using an additional combination of actions. These actions range from what we can personally do, such as efficient home and transportation energy management, to national and international policies such as putting a price on carbon emissions. Carbon fee and dividend legislation has strengthening bipartisan support in Congress.
There are currently 62 Climate Solutions Caucus members in the House of Representatives with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. Their goal will be to keep average global temperatures within the sweet spot that allows for economic and environmental sustainability while optimizing our children’s and future generation’s well-being.