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Behind the CurveBehind the Curve

Science and the Politics of Global Warming

Joshua P. Howe

Narrated by Marcus Freeman

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Washington Press

In 1958, Charles David Keeling began measuring the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. His project kicked off a half century of research that has expanded our knowledge of climate change. Despite more than fifty years of research, however, our global society has yet to find real solutions to the problem of global warming. Why?

In Behind the Curve, Joshua Howe attempts to answer this question. He explores the history of global warming from its roots as a scientific curiosity to its place at the center of international environmental politics. The book follows the story of rising CO2—illustrated by the now famous Keeling Curve—through a number of historical contexts, highlighting the relationships among scientists, environmentalists, and politicians as those relationships changed over time.

The nature of the problem itself, Howe explains, has privileged scientists as the primary spokespeople for the global climate. But while the “science first” forms of advocacy they developed to fight global warming produced more and better science, the primacy of science in global warming politics has failed to produce meaningful results. In fact, an often exclusive focus on science has left advocates for change vulnerable to political opposition and has limited much of the discussion to debates about the science itself.

As a result, while we know much more about global warming than we did fifty years ago, CO2 continues to rise. In 1958, Keeling first measured CO2 at around 315 parts per million; by 2013, global CO2 had soared to 400 ppm. The problem is not getting better - it's getting worse. Behind the Curve offers a critical and levelheaded look at how we got here.

Joshua P. Howe is assistant professor of history and environmental studies at Reed College.


“Howe’s strong insight into how individuals, institutions, and governments interact produces a fascinating yet distressing story, proving that despite its aspirations towards objectivity, applied science historically is a flawed, human tale approaching a classical tragedy.”

Publisher’s Weekly

“Fastidiously researched….there are no clear heroes and villains…Howe relates a multi-layered conflict that is leading us to a catastrophe of biblical proportions.”

South China Morning Post

“In Howe’s Behind the Curve we have a good story, and an instructive one. It is not the only story to tell about climate change and it won’t be the last. But it is one that should be listened to.”

Climatic Change

“As the debate rages on…read about it here.”

—Robert E. Hoopes, Wildlife Activist

“Excellent...the first study to explore the links between climate science and postwar politics in depth.”

Public Books

“Howe's take on the role of scientists as advocates for political action will be of interest to anyone concerned with the politics of climate change.”


“An exhaustive look at scientific, political and social responses to climate change, starting with the discovery of the greenhouse effect in 1958.”

Willamette Week

“Page after page, Behind the Curve demonstrates the profound tension between science and politics—or more accurately, the anxiety among scientists that their credibility would be torpedoed if they allowed themselves to be lured from the safe harbor of factual inquiry into the treacherous shoals of politics.”

Reed Magazine

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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks