Behind the Curve: Science and the Politics of Global Warming by Joshua Howe University of Washington Press 3.5 stars Nick Walker Forgive the puns, but global warming has been a heated topic of debate for the past couple of decades, and one that has generated a lot of hot air in academic circles and the media, while spawning many books on the contentious subject. Among them is Behind the Curve by US professor Joshua Howe, a specialist in environmental studies, who examines the concept and politics swirling around the issue. The title refers to the Keeling Curve, a graph that has been used for monitoring and plotting the changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1958. This upward-trending curve is based on measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, and began under scientist Charles David Keeling. The earliest measurements were the first significant evidence of rising carbon dioxide levels. Since those first statistics were taken 56 years ago, the response to his research has been sluggish, contentious and fraught with complexities, both politically and on a practical level. This book examines those complexities and much else. Particularly fascinating and insightful is the chapter on the 1950s cold war roots of global-warming study, when, at times, the Soviet Union enjoyed a modest scientific lead over the US. Despite the unambiguous science, effective and co-ordinated responses have not been forthcoming, while "manufactured doubt" spawns more research, especially by lobbyists of dubious partiality. Howe traces UN efforts over the decades to develop a global response, efforts that have brought the developed and developing worlds into noisy disagreement. So, after more than a half-century of focused research, the ever-warmer global village has yet to really address the problem. The reason, Howe, posits, is a tangle of international environmental politics, a Gordian knot that no one power can slice through on its own. Meanwhile, the numbers continue to go up: last year, CO 2 had risen to 400 parts per million (ppm). In 1958, Keeling first measured CO 2 at around 315ppm. How did we get to this point? The book has the answers - most of them based on the basic human tendency to muddle along, and let tomorrow take care of itself. Behind the Curve is fastidiously researched and contains 72 pages of notes and biographical sources. Howe's book has two overarching messages: we have managed to get the science right but the politics wrong; and remedying the problem will involve politics and economics as much as pure science. There are no clear heroes and villains here: Howe relates a multi-layered conflict that is leading us to a catastrophe of biblical proportions. The book is thorough and wide-ranging, although its readability is hampered by an academic tone. But its message is crucially important - and life on earth may depend on whether we heed it.