An unfocused attempt to see the world through a prism of diamonds and coal dust

Carbon and its Domestication. First Edition

May 26, 2006

We each see the world in different ways - the atheist, the believer; the artist, the scientist; the mathematician, the biologist. And how we see the world dictates the stories we tell about how it is changing and allows us to make sense of events in relation to our chosen frame of reference. Geographers have mastered this art successfully over the decades using paradigms of, for example, space, place, power or climate to give understanding and coherence to our experience of the planet.

Antoinette Mannion's book introduces a new frame of reference - that of carbon. She writes unashamedly to indulge her passion for "people-environment relationships", a core motivation for many geographers.

Seeing these relationships through the lens of elemental carbon is how this book was conceived. Mannion is clearly a believer that this carboncentric view of the world yields new insights. I am less convinced.

The idea of domestication is probably borrowed from that of agriculture, yet I am not sure it is the best analogy for the process of change she lays out. The "industrialisation" of carbon, or its "monetisation", would perhaps be more appropriate transformations to analyse. Yet Mannion has little to say about the economics of carbon, and although the book has a chapter on the politics of carbon she over-reaches by saying that "most of politics concerns carbon".

Carbon and its Domestication becomes just another account of global environmental transformation and management, and a disappointingly disjointed one. There are better products in this market, and certainly better offerings among student textbooks.

My guess is that students of geography or environmental science might be expected to purchase it, but the rather lumbering writing style, its heavy and unattractive format and complete lack of study aids - not to mention its price - militates against purchase. There are 15 pages of index and 13 pages of (unstructured) references, yet the promised guide to useful websites is missing.

In the end, the book comes across as an unsatisfying attempt to articulate a rather idiosyncratic view of global environmental transformation by a worthy geographer. But the potential for seeing the world differently through the eyes of carbon is never realised. Separate chapters on "the chemistry of carbon", "the biology of carbon" and "the geology of carbon"

are never going to inspire many students to follow Mannion's carbon take on the world.

Mike Hulme is executive director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

Carbon and its Domestication. First Edition

Author - A. M. Mannion
Publisher - Springer
Pages - 319
Price - £71.00 and £37.50
ISBN - 1 4020 3956 5 and 3957 3

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