In 2006 Abu Dhabi launched an ambitious project to construct the world’s first zero-carbon city: Masdar City. In Spaceship in the Desert Gökçe Günel examines the development and construction of Masdar City's renewable energy and clean technology infrastructures, providing an illuminating portrait of an international group of engineers, designers, and students who attempted to build a post-oil future in Abu Dhabi. While many of Masdar's initiatives—such as developing a new energy currency and a driverless rapid transit network—have stalled or not met expectations, Günel analyzes how these initiatives contributed to rendering the future a thinly disguised version of the fossil-fueled present. Spaceship in the Desert tells the story of Masdar, at once a “utopia” sponsored by the Emirati government, and a well-resourced company involving different actors who participated in the project, each with their own agendas and desires.
Introduction. The Soul of Carbon Dioxide 1
Part I. Knowledge
1. Inhabiting the Spaceship 37
2. Beautiful Buildings and Research Contracts 65
Part II. Technology
3. Ergos: A New Energy Currency 101
4. An Expensive Toy 127
Part III. Governance
5. Subsurface Workings 157
Epilogue. The Potential Futures of Abu Dhabi's Masdar 183
“This absorbing and beautifully researched book is about the technopolitics of environmental resource management in an unlikely eco-site: Masdar City in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. But it is also about the dreams, cosmologies, and technical skills of the people who made Masdar City. Based on compellingly recounted ethnographic work, this theoretically sophisticated book shows how instead of questioning the fundamental tenets of capitalism which hurl the world toward environmental degradation, the ‘technical adjustments’ of such ecological interventions accommodate consumerism and capitalism while donning the mantle of progressive eco-politics."
Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, SOAS, University of London
“In this inventive, original, and readable book, Gökçe Günel explores the line between the visionary and the folly, examining the planning, execution, and imagination of the first post-oil, renewable energy, carbon neutral smart city in the Middle East. Folding together urbanism and energy politics, climate change and spectacle, knowledge economies and the end of oil, Günel is alive to the ambitions and the contradictions of creating a city so unique it is a ‘spaceship in the desert.’”
Brian Larkin, author of
Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria
"Spaceship in the Desert is the fascinating story of a 'zero-carbon eco-city' that demonstrates the stark difference between vision and reality. . . . Günel’s first-hand reportage is insightful and objective."