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CO₂ Rising: The World's Greatest Environmental Challenge

By: Tyler Volk(Author)

218 pages, 38 illustrations

MIT Press

Paperback | Sep 2010 | #187986 | ISBN-13: 9780262515214
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £13.99 $18/€16 approx
Hardback | Sep 2008 | #176358 | ISBN-13: 9780262220835
Out of Print Details

About this book

The most colossal environmental disturbance in human history is under way. Ever-rising levels of the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) are altering the cycles of matter and life and interfering with the Earth's natural cooling process. Melting Arctic ice and mountain glaciers are just the first relatively mild symptoms of what will result from this disruption of the planetary energy balance. In CO2 Rising, scientist Tyler Volk explains the process at the heart of global warming and climate change: the global carbon cycle. Vividly and concisely, Volk describes what happens when CO2 is released by the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), letting loose carbon atoms once trapped deep underground into the interwoven web of air, water, and soil.

To demonstrate how the carbon cycle works, Volk traces the paths that carbon atoms take during their global circuits. Showing us the carbon cycle from a carbon atom's viewpoint, he follows one carbon atom into a leaf of barley and then into an alcohol molecule in a glass of beer, through the human bloodstream, and then back into the air. He also compares the fluxes of carbon brought into the biosphere naturally to those created by the combustion of fossil fuels and explains why the latter are responsible for rising temperatures.

Knowledge about the global carbon cycle and the huge disturbances that human activity produces in it will equip us to consider the hard questions Volk raises in the second half of CO2 Rising: projections of future levels of CO2; which energy systems and processes (solar, wind, nuclear, carbon sequestration?) will power civilization in the future; the relationships among the wealth of nations, energy use, and CO2 emissions; and global equity in per capita emissions. Answering these questions will indeed be our greatest environmental challenge.

"Carbon atoms with personality. That is the interesting literary device biochemist Tyler Volk uses to illustrate the fantastic convolutions that define the many and varied pathways of the carbon cycle [...] The public hears a lot about climate change but too little about just why too much CO2 – a natural part of our atmosphere – is bad news. Volk does an impressive job of illustrating, in engaging prose, the dangers to humanity of pushing the carbon cycle too hard and too fast."
- Barry Brook, The Quarterly Review of Biology

"I confess to initial doubts regarding a narrative about an anthropomorphized carbon atom [...] But this skeptic got caught up in the story and was impressed by the effectiveness with which Volk conveys complex concepts, the time scales involved, and some illuminating statistics."
- Gregg Marland, Environment Magazine, for the full review, visit Issues/September-October 2009/Books-so09.html

" [...] the book is well written and engaging [...] Volk clearly and fairly communicates complex and sometimes difficult concepts. CO2 Rising provides the basic information about the global carbon cycle that is needed to understand the scope, challenges, and options for dealing with climate change. This understanding should be part of everyone's scientific literacy."
- Kristie L. Ebi, Environmental Health Perspectives, for the full review, visit

"The MIT Press has released CO2 Rising: The World's Greatest Environmental Challenge by Tyler Volk. This is the ultimate guide to the subject. A basic understanding of the carbon, CO2, and its cycle is necessary in order to understand what is driving global warming. This engaging and compelling book provides everything you need to know. It is jargon-free and easy to follow."
- Connie Krochmal, BellaOnLine: The Voice of Women, for the full review, visit

"Tyler Volk takes the reader on a journey of the carbon cycle from the viewpoint of individual carbon atoms. He then compares the natural release of carbon into the biosphere to that released by our use of fossil fuels. Both serve to bring the science of the carbon cycle to the reader in understandable terms."
- Wildlife Activist Magazine

"Tyler Volk's CO2 Rising is a finely crafted introduction to the greenhouse problem, taking as its protagonist a little carbon atom called Dave [...] If there is one book on climate change that President-elect Barack Obama should read, it might well be Tyler Volk's CO2 Rising. Its clear, simple exposition of atmospheric chemistry is so well-written that it might even convince past-presidents."
- Euan Nisbet, Nature Reports: Climate Change, for the full review, visit

" [...] Volk introduces readers to Oiliver, Coaleen, and Methaniel, who unlike Dave were purposively extracted from the earth and have been in the biosphere for a much shorter period [...] more than competent tour guides to the complexities of the carbon cycle."
- Zoe Marquardt, Chemical Heritage Newsmagazine, for the full review, visit

" [...] what sets CO2 Rising apart from other climate change books are its clear, concise and concrete explanations of how Earth's carbon cycle works [...] Dave and his fellow carbon atoms will give readers a new appreciation of how connected the world is – at least through the carbon we all share."
- Erin Wayman, Earth Magazine

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Tyler Volk is Science Director of Environmental Studies and Associate Professor of Biology at New York University. He is the author of Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth (MIT Press), Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind, and other books.

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