Industrial Sabotage as Temporary Carbon Storage: A Methodology for Calculating Carbon Credits from Direct Action

Version 0.1, January 28th, 2023


Carbon offsets are actions intended to compensate for carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Calculating offsets involves the quantification of carbon emissions, carbon storage, and carbon removal.

Carbon offset projects can be divided into two categories: avoided emissions and carbon removal. Avoided emission projects are achieved from a wide range of initiatives that reduce or eliminate emissions, for example switching an energy supply to solar power from coal, or reducing high methane-emitting animal populations like camels or cattle. Carbon removals, on the other hand, are projects that expand processes that draw carbon out of the atmosphere such as ecosystem restoration.

Industrial Sabotage Methodology

This methodology aims to quantify the carbon benefits of industrial sabotage and other direct actions in order to award them the carbon credits they are due, in the same way that other positive climate actions are rewarded. This is the goal of the Industrial Sabotage Methodology, which adopts existing approaches for calculating offsets from temporary carbon storage.

Direct climate actions that shut down or blockade fossil fuel projects are becoming increasingly common, and result in delaying or avoiding emissions for the period of the shut down. Actions that produce removals are less common but include guerilla gardening, tree planting, or preventing the destruction of existing carbon removal environments like wetlands and forests. To calculate the impact of direct actions in the first category, where emissions are delayed, we need to adopt a methodology that considers time. For example, what is the net benefit of delaying the burning of 1 metric tonne of coal for 1 day, 1 month, or 1 year? This is similar to the challenge of evaluating the benefit of short-term carbon storage, where carbon might be held in a plantation forest, in the soil, or in a storage facility for a period of time before reentering the atmosphere. From a physical standpoint, bringing a coal port to a standstill for a week is the same as temporarily storing the coal in the port for that same time period but with the added benefit of drawing public attention to the urgent need to transition away from the production, export, and combustion of fossil fuels.

Therefore, we assert that industrial sabotage should be considered a form of temporary carbon storage.

Equivalence Claims

Whether as avoided emissions or removals, the ultimate goal of carbon offset calculations is to make equivalence claims. If some amount of carbon is emitted, what equivalent amount of carbon has to be avoided, temporarily stored, or removed from the atmosphere via another process to achieve net neutral atmospheric carbon? Calculating the impact of the temporary storage of carbon means making equivalence claims across time. If 1 tonne of carbon is emitted, how much carbon has to be stored for how long to offset it so there is no net change in the atmosphere?

The Time Value of Carbon

The time value of carbon evaluates emissions reductions not only in terms of their magnitude but also in terms of timing—in other words, the impact of the timing of when the emission is made or avoided is considered.

With time in mind, it is possible to compare the benefit of reducing emissions today compared to reducing emissions in the future. For example, consider the scenarios represented in the graph below. In Scenario 1 emissions are reduced early with more gradual reductions as time goes on. Scenario 2 shows a linear reduction in emissions and in Scenario 3, emissions are reduced gradually at first and more aggressively later on. The areas under each curve represent the amount of carbon emitted for each scenario and demonstrate the benefit of early emissions reductions. Carbon stays in the atmosphere for between 300–1000 years, well beyond several human lifespans, so it is essentially cumulative.

Scenarios for different emission reduction pathways.

Scenario 1 poses less risk than Scenario 3 as it puts less total carbon into the atmosphere. Therefore greenhouse gas cuts now should be attributed a higher value than greenhouse gas cuts made later.


In 2017, Bill Gates took 59 flights by private jet, emitting about 1,600 tonnes of CO₂. Neutralising his jets in 2017 would have been more valuable than neutralising his jets 5 years later as during the period of 2017-2022, they emitted approximately 5 x 1,600 = 8,000 tonnes of carbon. CO₂ remains in the atmosphere for between 300-1,000 years which means that this 8,000 tonnes is presently hanging around contributing to global heating and climate disasters. Note, the average emissions per capita globally is approximately 4 tonnes. What value should be attributed to time in this case study? How much more valuable should it be to neutralise Gates’ jets and avoid these emissions today, rather than do so five years later?

By this logic, carbon sequestration projects now, even if they only delay the release of carbon, benefit us by pushing back the time that carbon spends in the atmosphere until later. However, if the carbon will eventually be released, their benefits now come at the expense of humans living in the future. Time value methods are therefore contingent on ethical positions. How should we evaluate the risk or damages to future humans? Is it ok to export risk into the future by only temporarily storing carbon?

Tonne-Year Accounting of Temporary Storage

Tonne-year accounting is a methodology for calculating the value of temporary carbon storage (or delayed emissions) based on duration. For example, if an emitter desires to emit 1 tonne of carbon, tonne-year accounting can be used to calculate how much carbon needs to be stored for a certain duration to offset the effects of the emission.

A "tonne-year" is simply 1 tonne of carbon stored for a single year.

According to Verra, a leading carbon credit registry, "the most challenging aspect of using tonne-year accounting for carbon credit quantification is determining how to convert tonne-years into permanent tonnes." That is to say, emitters wishing to use tonne-year accounting must find a method that establishes a physical equivalence between temporary carbon storage and permanent emissions.

There are indeed multiple methods to calculate these equivalencies. We draw on work by Chay et al. that analyses several different methods for evaluating temporary storage benefits, including Lashof and Moura-Costa, which despite their significant problems are already in use by platforms like NCX. Chay et al. calculate the equivalence ratios for each method to compare them, using a carbon storage period of 1 year.

Source NCX (2020) using Lashof NCX (2021) using Lashof CAR (2020) Lashof Example
Time horizon (years) 100 1000 100 100
Discount rate (percent) 3.30% 3% 0% 0%
Equivalence ratio (unitless) 17.000 30.800 100 128

Table 1: Sourced from Chay et al. It shows how "Ton-year accounting methods have been and are being used in the offsets industry with a diversity of method and parameter choices. CAR (2020) refers to the Climate Action Reserve’s implementation of ton-year accounting in its Soil Enrichment Protocol. NCX (2020) refers to the method described in NCX’s Version 0.4 white paper. NCX (2021) refers to the method described in NCX’s Version 0.5 white paper. Each column in the table uses a distinct ton-year accounting method.”

Time Horizon

For all methods, a time horizon must be chosen. A time horizon is an arbitrary time period deemed relevant for considering the effect of emissions. For example, an emitter who wishes to take into account impacts on their grandchildren or great grandchildren might choose a time horizon of, say, 200 years. Choosing a short time horizon increases the calculated value of temporary storage, as the damaging effects of eventual release are pushed further out beyond the chosen time horizon.

For example, using the Lashof method with a time horizon of 100 years and a 1-year storage period yields an equivalence ratio of 128. This means that storing 1 tonne of carbon for 1 year is equivalent to a 1/128 t CO2 offset. A time horizon of 200 years yields a ratio of 254. A time horizon of 10 years yields a ratio of 11.6.

Choice of time horizon is socially and culturally contingent.

The Lashof Method

Here we adopt the Lashof method. Lashof assumes that all temporarily stored carbon is rereleased into the atmosphere after storage. Typically, but not always, this is what happens when activism causes delays in the extraction, transportation, or combustion of fossil fuels.

With a storage period of 1 year and a time horizon of 100 years, the Lashof method yields an equivalence ratio of 128, making it one of the more conservative of all the methods we have evaluated.

Finally, while most storage periods are at the scale of years, our methodology is developed to account for "micro-storage" periods, at the scale of weeks, days, or even hours. To achieve this we crudely convert the duration of a given action into years and then apply the 1-year equivalence ratio.


Imagine that a direct action immobilises Bill Gates’ fleet of private jets for 14 days.

The annual CO2 emissions from Gates' use of private jets are 1600 tonnes.

First, we calculate the storage period produced by the action:

$$ \begin{aligned} StoragePeriod_{years} &= {ActionLength_{days} \over 365} \\[5pt] &= {14 \over 365} \\[5pt] &= 0.038 years \end{aligned} $$

Second, the total delayed emissions:

$$ \begin{aligned} DelayedEmissions &= EmissionsPerYear \times StoragePeriod_{years} \\[5pt] &= 1600 \times 0.038 \\[5pt] &= 60.8 tonnes \end{aligned} $$

Finally, we calculate the offset:

$$ \begin{aligned} Offset &= {DelayedEmissions \times StoragePeriod_{years} \over EquivalenceRatioLashof} \\[5pt] &= {60.8 \times 0.038 \over 128} \\[5pt] &= 0.018{ }t{ }CO_2 \end{aligned} $$

Here we see that 1 tonne of CO2 released is offset by 1 tonne of CO2 stored for 128 years. Therefore the benefits of temporarily storing 60.8 tonnes of CO2 in this action offsets (or is physically equivalent to) the release of 18 kg of carbon.