There currently exists no comprehensive metric to measure and value anthropogenic changes in carbon flux between all geospheric carbon sinks. We propose that changes in carbon residence time within geospheres be used as a metric to assess anthropogenic changes in carbon flux, and the term ‘carbon quality’ (cq) be used to describe such changes. 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 is needed to capture the breath and scope of carbon activity.

We propose a logarithmic vector scale for cq to measure anthropogenic carbon flux. The distance between vector points, e.g. the starting and ending residence times, would represent the change in cq. 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 residence time carbon state. The greater the carbon fees for a country, the larger the b coefficient would be, and the greater the import fees would be to achieve carbon parity on imports from countries with lower carbon fees.

By assessing embodied carbon within imports for carbon parity with domestic production, cq would eliminate the incentives to use spatial shifts in carbon emissions to avoid carbon fees. Similarity, cq would modulate the incentives to use temporal displacement of carbon emissions, such as with biomass or CCS, to reduce carbon fees.

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