The Story of CO2: Big Ideas for a Small Molecule


By Geoffrey Ozin and Mireille Ghoussoub

Published: November 2020

Format: Hardcover, Page Count: 280 Pages, Illustrations: 16 Figures, Dimensions: 6.00 x 9.50

Geoffrey A. Ozin is a Distinguished University Professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Toronto and is the Government of Canada’s Research Chair.

Mireille F. Ghoussoub holds a PhD in Materials Chemistry from the University of Toronto.


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How much do you really know about carbon dioxide?

The Story of CO2 explores all aspects of carbon dioxide, from the atomic to the universal perspective, and takes the reader on an epic journey into our physical world, starting from the moment of the Big Bang, all the way to the present world in which atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to grow. This story seeks to inspire readers with the latest carbon utilization technologies and explain how they fit within the broader context of carbon mitigation strategies in the shift towards a sustainable energy economy.

The climate crisis requires that we drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions across all sectors of society. The Story of CO2 contributes to this vital conversation by highlighting the cutting-edge science and emerging technologies – a number of which are already commercially available – that can transform carbon dioxide into a myriad of products such as feedstock chemicals, polymers, pharmaceuticals, and fuels. This approach allows us to reconsider CO2 as a resource, and to add “carbon capture and use” to our other tools in the fight against catastrophic climate change.

Academic research scientists tend to have a reputation for being socially and politically disengaged. Somehow, even in 2019, the myth of the solitary, disheveled professor locked up in an office, drowning among stacks of dusty books, and scribbling incoherent notes on pads of paper still pervades our notion of academic research. Those of us at universities know that this stereotype could not be further from the truth and that strong collaboration and effective communication are fundamental to the success of the modern research scientist. What is true, however, is that the obligations of both professors and graduate students in the present day are certainly demanding: grant writing, teaching, research, and administrative duties can easily fill the better part of the week. Wandering away from one’s focused research program is not trivial and often not condoned within the community.

The research, writing, and consulting that culminated in this text certainly proved to be an exercise in wandering. We carry scientific expertise in nanochemistry and materials science. Our research involves studying the catalytic processes that might enable carbon dioxide (CO2) to react chemically and form other compounds. However, like everyone else, we are living in the time of existential threat of climate change. Halting the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has become imperative if we are to cap global temperature rise to maintain a livable environment on earth. Naturally, we became curious as to how our research on carbon dioxide fit into the big picture of a global climate-change-mitigation strategy. As is turns out, although our lab benches are a far cry from the scale of industrial chemical plants, fundamental research in nanochemistry and materials science is an essential part of improving on current carbon-related technologies and industrial processes.

Since the release in the 1960s of the first cautionary reports predicting global warming, climate change has slowly disseminated its way to the public consciousness and become what is arguably the biggest issue of our time. While opinions will always vary, many people, irrespective of political leaning or economic conviction, recognize that climate change is associated with anthropogenic carbon emissions and that there is the need for definitive action. At the time of writing this study, in September 2019, no less than seven million people took part in a global climate strike. With an ever-growing youth-led movement and an increasing number of countries and municipalities declaring a state of climate emergency, the urgency of the matter could not have been more evident. The Green New Deal, conceived in the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in response to the Great Depression, to enable a just and equitable transition toward an emissions-free economy is now a proposed legislation in the United States, and other countries are quickly following suit in developing their own version. At present, the social and political forces surrounding climate change are shifting daily, and we recognize that, by the time of reading, some of our content will already be outdated.

Editorial Reviews

“If you only read one book about climate change this year, make it this one.”

— Louis Ammon, Chemistry World, June 2021


“This book could mark a turning point – the beginning of a paradigm shift.”

— John Polanyi, University of Toronto, Winner of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry


“Sunlight and water have converted carbon dioxide to energy-rich molecules for billions of years. The oil, gas, and coal we have been using for transportation and materials have come from this chemistry. The bad news is that combustion of these fossil fuels continues to harm life on our planet. What to do? The Story of CO2, beautifully crafted by Geoffrey A. Ozin and Mireille F. Ghoussoub, has instructions for us. It is a great read, chock-full of history, facts, and most importantly, ideas about what we should be doing. Highly recommended!”

— Harry B. Gray, Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry, and Founding Director, Beckman Institute, California Institute of Technology


“This book takes the reader on a fascinating journey of a simple and yet crucial molecule that is essential for life on Earth and our future.”

— Erwin Reisner, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge


The Story of CO2 provides a fascinating take on a molecule that’s right under our noses. Ozin and Ghoussoub delve into this simple but powerful gas, which is changing our climate and acidifying our oceans. It’s a thoroughly researched history of this essential gas that will leave the reader feeling more hopeful about solutions to our climate crisis and the future of our planet.”

— Leah C. Stokes, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara


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Additional information

Weight 1.23 lbs
Dimensions 9.5 × 6 × 1.1 in