Behind the Covers: Joshua Howe’s “Behind the Curve”

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 launched a half century of research that has expanded our knowledge of climate change but done little to curb its effects. In Behind the Curve: Climate Science and the Politics of Global Warming, Joshua Howe explores the history of global warming from its roots as a scientific curiosity to its place at the center of international environmental debates. The book follows the story of rising CO2—illustrated by the now famous Keeling Curve—while highlighting the relationships between scientists, environmentalists, and politicians as climate science evolved and as policy debates unfolded. In today’s guest post, UW Press senior designer Thomas Eykemans recounts his efforts to create a book cover that incorporated an iconic graphic while also reflecting the human and environmental components of climate change.

The Keeling Curve measures the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa from 1960–2013.

The Keeling Curve measures the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa from 1960–2013.

Howe writes that “the Keeling Curve [is] one of the simplest and most powerful images in the iconography of anthropogenic climate change.” It is central to the argument of the book and appears again and again throughout, even inspiring the title. It became obvious that it had to play some role in the design of the cover. My challenge lay in how to present it in an engaging and appealing way.

My initial concepts were purely graphical, exploring an interplay of typography, color, and the curve. I liked the idea of warm and cool colors defining the foreground and background. The placement of the title could also play with being in front or behind. A flowchart of a complex governmental report provided an interesting contrast to the simplicity of the curve.


Early concepts paired the Keeling Curve with various typographic and color combinations.

While these concepts may have been successful from a design perspective, they didn’t  do enough to reflect the human connection to the realities of our environment. I decided to try incorporating photographic elements.


The concept evolved to include photographic elements .

Browsing imagery that connoted climate change and keeping my earlier layouts in mind, I found that the crest of a sand dune matched the bend of the Keeling Curve. It seemed a little bleak, though. The horizon of the earth as seen from space also matches the curve when cropped just right, while recalling the iconic “Blue Marble” photo of the earth taken by Apollo 17 in 1972. The result is a cover that creatively visualizes the book’s themes on a truly global scale.

Final cover design.

The final cover design, with the curve of the Earth scaled to match the Keeling Curve.

Final jacket wrap.

Final jacket wrap.