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Hardcover | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262220835 | 240 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 39 figures| August 2008
Paperback | $16.95 Trade | £11.95 | ISBN: 9780262515214 | 240 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 39 figures| September 2010

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CO2 Rising

The World's Greatest Environmental Challenge


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 against 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 that 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.

About the Author

Tyler Volk is Science Director of Environmental Studies and Professor of Biology at New York University. He is the author of Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth (MIT Press, 2003), Metapatterns: Across Space, Time, and Mind, and other books.


“[T]his book is an excellent introduction for undergraduate students and the general public with a keen interest in knowing more about climate change. It is equally informative for scientists and professionals specializing in different fields who would like to have an interdisciplinary view of the wonderful carbon cycle.”—Ning Zeng, The American Meteorological Society Bulletin
“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. (For the full review, visit”—Gregg Marland, Environment Magazine
“...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. (For the full review, visit”—Kristie L. Ebi, Environmental Health Perspectives
“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. (For the full review, visit”—Connie Krochmal, BellaOnLine: The Voice of Women
“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. (For the full review, visit”—Euan Nisbet, Nature Reports: Climate Change
“...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. (For the full review, visit”—Zoe Marquardt, Chemical Heritage Newsmagazine
“...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


“Incessant flow of carbon dioxide and its fluid transformation becomes our own personal story in this wise and accessible narrative of the reality of accelerating climate change. Volk's beautifully illustrated description of this vast problem and his approach to potential solutions for our future life, growth, and energy supplies should interest everyone.”
Lynn Margulis, Distinguished University Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
“Here's the most important math of our time on earth. Straightforward, simple, powerful—Tyler Volk lays out the numbers to show why we need a far more urgent and dramatic response to global warming than we've attempted to date.”
Bill McKibben, author The End of Nature, and founder,
“Tyler Volk is a wonderful expositor who tells it like it is. In CO2 Rising he has some feisty carbon atoms take us along on their vividly and clearly described romp through the bio and geosphere. A journey we most certainly affect.”
Roald Hoffmann, Department of Chemistry, Cornell University, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
“If I had the power, I would assign C02 Rising to every college freshman in America. It is that good. It is that accessible. It is that important.”
Mitchell Thomashow, President, Unity College
“A clear and compelling picture of both the nature and scale of the global climate and energy challenge and what will be necessary to address it.”
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, Breakthrough Institute
“Here's the most important math of our time on Earth. Straightforward, simple, powerful Tyler Volk lays out the numbers to show why we need a far more urgent and dramatic response to global warming than we've attempted to date.”
Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and founder of