Woodcache PBC

The Time Value of Emissions Should Be a Thing


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We should agree that a unit of carbon emissions today is worse than the same unit of carbon emissions in the future, especially the distant future.

This is true for several reasons:

  • Today we lack exact knowledge about how our global ecosystem works and we may be tripping irreversible climate effects at any moment.  We’re better off not crossing them at all, or flirting with them.  There is a significant unknown threat we can avoid if we avoid emissions today.  
  • The radiative force of ghg in the environment today has an effect, today, tomorrow and the third day, and these effects are additive.  Emissions on the third day only affect the third day.  So emissions today are worse than the same emissions three days from now.  This is especially true for long-lived gases like CO2.  The CO2 emitted in the 1830’s when the industrial revolution started are still with us, and continue to heat the planet each and every day.
  • Today we lack tools and we lack control for a number of reasons, including a lack of agreement on what to do.  We are socially more vulnerable today than we will be in the future when the negative effects of climate change or more obvious to more people, and consensus for action will be more obvious.  

So, from a variety of perspectives, it’s better to emit in the future than to emit today.  If you had to choose between emitting a tonne of CO2 this year and, say,  two tonnes of CO2 in a thousand years, it’s probably better to emit two tonnes in a thousand years.  Got it?

This concept is clearly borrowed from the Time Value of Money, a financial concept which basically states that a dollar in your pocket today is worth more than a dollar in your pocket in one thousand years, or even two dollars in one thousand years.  This concept is the foundation for interest rates, an attempt to quantify the balance between money and the real economy. The Time Value of Emissions is probably an even more valuable and stronger argument, though at the current moment poorly defined.  

Unfortunately our Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) concept of “durability” or “permanence” totally misses the Time Value of Emissions, and voluntary buyers should expand their awareness, despite its ill definition.  Most CDR methodologies today sell a “Net Good” in an equation that goes something like this:

Net good = Total Good – Total Bad

This equation says nothing about when the “Total Bad” occurs, which is of course in reality, “Right Away.”  The “Total Good” occurs only gradually, over time.  This “additive” equation completely fails to capture the timing of goods and bads.

Today’s claims of “durability” and “permanence” completely ignore Time Value of Emissions.  If we want to do the greatest good for our environment, this ignorance must stop. What’s needed is a set of scientists and researchers to more effectively capture and evaluate the “whens,” and incorporate them into the relative value of CDR pathways. 

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