COS 98-2
A proposed alternative measure for climate change potential

Thursday, August 13, 2015: 8:20 AM
318, Baltimore Convention Center
F. DeGroff, CCSF, San Francisco, CA

Anthropogenic changes in carbon fluxes are currently of most concern in the atmospheric and hydrospheric geospheres. There currently exists no comprehensive metric to measure and value anthropogenic changes in carbon flux between these carbon sinks. We propose that changes in carbon residence time within the geospheres be used as a metric to assess anthropogenic changes in carbon flux, and the term 'carbon quality' be used to describe such changes, abbreviated as 'cq'. Carbon residence time represents the inverse of carbon flux; as carbon flux increases, the corresponding cq will decrease, and vice versa.

Focusing on atmospheric carbon emissions as a measure of anthropogenic activity on the environment ignores the fungible characteristics of carbon that are crucial in both the biosphere and the worldwide economy. The ubiquitous carbon molecule enables the enormous diversity in the biosphere, as well as the widespread, strategic economic presence of carbon in the world economy. Focusing on a single form of inorganic carbon as a proxy metric for the plethora of anthropogenic activity and carbon compounds will prove inadequate, convoluted, and unmanageable. A broader, more basic metric to capture the breath and scope of carbon activity is needed.


We propose a logarithmic vector scale for cq to measure anthropogenic carbon flux. The distance between vector points, or length, represents the change in cq.  A logarithmic vector would measure the logarithm of the difference between the starting and ending residence time. A base-10 logarithmic scale would allow the addition and subtraction of exponents to calculate changes in cq.

As carbon moves between carbon reservoirs, the change in cq is measured as: cq = b ( log10 [mean carbon residence time] ) where b represents the carbon price coefficient for a particular country. For any country, cq measures the climate change potential for any organic carbon when converted to inorganic CO2, or to any lower energy organic carbon or state. The greater the carbon fees for a country, the larger the b coefficient will be, and the greater the import fees will be to achieve carbon parity on imports from countries with lower carbon fees.

Assessing embodied carbon within imports for carbon parity with domestic production, cq would eliminate incentives to avoid carbon fees through spatial shifts in carbon emissions. Similarity, cq would eliminate incentives to avoid carbon fees through temporal displacement of carbon emissions, such as biomass or CCS.