Whether in space colonies or through geo-engineering, the looming disaster of climate change inspires no shortage of techno-utopian visions of human survival. Most of such hypotheses remain science fiction, but in Spaceship in the Desert: Energy, Climate Change, and Urban Design in Abu Dhabi (Duke University Press, 2019), Gökçe Günel explores the United Arab Emirates’s planned Masdar City, an experimental attempt at designing an emissions-free society. The first parts of Masdar City opened beside the Abu Dhabi airport in 2010 as an oil-wealth funded initiative to establish the UAE as a leader in the renewable energy sector and to begin to prepare the emirates for a low or post-oil economy. Masdar attracted students and researchers from around the world to test, and be test subjects, for innovations including personal rapid transit, energy currencies, carbon capture and storage, and closed-loop resource circuits. Quickly, however, the master plan was abandoned as unworkable; but Masdar City has also not been a failure. Rather, Günel explores the interconnected social, technical, and political ramifications and adaptations involved in this attempt to design a potential fossil fuel-free future. She shrewdly criticizes the limitations of climate change strategies intended to protect the political economic status quo. Yet also, through deep ethnographic fieldwork with participants, Günel demonstrates the valuable role of anthropological insight in social and technological adaptations to a changing climate.
Gökçe Günel is Assistant Professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona.
Lance C. Thurner recently completed a PhD in History at Rutgers University with a dissertation addressing the production of medical knowledge, political subjectivities, and racial and national identities in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Mexico. He is broadly interested in the methods and politics of applying a global perspective to the history of science and medicine and the role of the humanities in the age of the Anthropocene.
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