Climate Understanding Survey

Carbon Pricing

 Fair Share Emissions Presentation 9/16/2017, Lexington, VA

2050 Story  Fictional story of reflection on meeting the challenge from year 2050

YouTube Video of Blog Content




written by B. Eli Fishpaw


 Recognizing the measure of what causes climate change is essential to learning to live within the Carbon Cycle.  We focus our efforts to address human caused climate change with an acceptance that greenhouse gas emissions  (primarily CO2) are the problem.  Therefore, all solutions must have a goal of limiting carbon emissions to less than the amount that can be sequestered out of the atmosphere.  Sequestration is the removal of carbon such as CO2 from the atmosphere primarily by photosynthesis converting it to plant material.  There is also mineralization and potentially technological sequestration.

Global Carbon Cycle Image

Figure 1: Global carbon cycle. Numbers represent flux of carbon dioxide in gigatons (Source: Figure 7.3, IPCC AR4).


Graphic above depicts the 2007 IPCC report in the form of a bar chart.  This is drawn to scale with break line for natural sequestration and emissions.  

When our emissions are higher than what nature can sequester, the over emissions are added to past years over emissions.  The amount emissions over what nature can sequester is accurately measured in air samples averaged over the year.  The good news is that most of our human caused emissions (17/29 gigatons) are in the carbon cycle.  The bad news is that emissions over what can be sequestered (12 gigatons) are accumulative.

When the average CO2 concentration goes up by 3 ppm (as it did in 2017) X 7.81 gigatons CO2/ppm = 23 gigatons CO2 emissions above what nature can sequester.


Graphic on right shows the balanced budget of net zero economy where emissions of CO2 are equal to sequestion of CO2 out of atmosphere.  


such as envisioned by the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, is achieved when human caused carbon emissions equal the amount that can be sequestered, primarily by nature.  At this level, we stop adding CO2 concentration to the atmosphere.  However, we are not reducing the CO2 concentration (debt).

The higher the atmospheric concentration, the more consequential the impacts.  This is not an estimate.  It is a record.

Carbon Emissions and Sequestration (financial metaphor)

The net sequestration by nature is income from which our human economy needs to meet our emission expenses.  When we spend more than our income, we barrow the money to make up the difference, which puts us in debt.  How high our eventual debt gets depends on how soon we stop borrowing money to meet expenses.  However, the year we meet our expenses with our income eliminating the need to borrow money, we are not out of debt.  We are at the peak of debt. The peak size of the debt depends on how soon net zero is achieved and the size of  the accumulated previous imbalances.

Net Sequestration Economy

The way we reduce our debt is to spend less than our income with the difference paying down our debt.  This is true for CO2 concentrations.  Because the CO2 concentrations are already too high and steadily rising, we must remove CO2 in order to pay our debt.

The ONLY way to lower atmospheric carbon concentrations is  to lower our emissions to less than what can be sequestered.


Carbon Cycle Composit

On right of graphic above shows bar chart of net sequestration economy. 

The difference will lower carbon concentration in the atmosphere which pays on the debt.  This is a Net Sequestration Economy.  I include a component of human technological sequestration in addition to nature, not because I advocate for it, but because including it makes the relationship of net emissions, net zero and net sequestration objectively factual and not an opinion.

The demand by nature for us to limit our emissions to less than what can be sequestered,  must be understood by the public to have a chance of imagining and implementing solutions.

The hope comes from recognizing a measure of the problem reveals a measure of the solution.

We must achieve our needs with less emissions than nature and humans can sequester.  Achieving this common understanding is the highest priority.

We have built our industrial economy on an unspoken, unrecognized assumption that CO2 emissions are free and unlimited.  We now know that neither of these are true.  There is a very high cost to emissions above net zero although that cost is imposed on different people in different places and different times. 

Fair Share of Emissions

Net Natural Sequestration/world population

17 gigatons CO2/yr / 7.3 billion people = 2.6 tons CO2/person/year


Yet we must emit CO2 to live.  Emissions are not the problem.  It is emissions in excess of what can be sequestered that threatens us.  Therefore, it would be reasonable to know what average level of emissions per person would avoid increasing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere.  If the world population averaged this level, all emissions are sequestered to achieve a Net Zero Carbon Emissions Economy as envisioned in 2015 Paris Climate Accord.  Using the data from 2007 IPCC on carbon cycle, natural and human emissions, to achieve net zero (balanced budget) average emissions need to be limited to 2.6 tons CO2/person/year.  Since we know that emissions are essential for our survival, understanding what level of emissions that would be in balance helps us to design support to achieve a limited fairly shared license to emit CO2 into the atmosphere.


Costa Rica scores well on the happiness index as does the US. The country has social a safety nets such as welfare and public health care. Costa Ricans  practice democratic values and freedom of religion.  To achieve happiness requires economic sufficiency.

However, they achieve that happiness with 1.9 tons CO2/person per year as compared with US of 19.25 tons CO2/year.  If we accept that the world needs to share the limits to emissions fairly,  Costa Ricans are removing .7 tons CO2/person/year (2.6 – 1.9).  If the world averaged the emissions of Costa Rica, we would be pulling out 5 gigatons CO2/year.  We would be reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2.36 ppm/year.  We would be paying our debt.  This is a proportional graphic based on numbers that looks like the conceptual graphic we started with.