Tag Archives: ecology

Bright-greening Dubai

Whatever you may think of Dubai (and however much of it is actually true), you can’t deny that those people know how to dream big. The Dubai Chamber of Commerce has apparently green-lit a plan for a self-sufficient off-grid ecotopian zone, dubbed (with what one presumes is as much hope as anything else) “Food City”. And here’s the proposal from architectural outfit GCLA:

Dubai "Food City" concept

GCLA has described their proposal for Food City as the “the marriage of landscapes and urbanism”. Their project integrates a variety of proposals to decrease overall energy use — concentrated solar collectors, towers covered in thin-film photovoltaic cells, piezoelectric pads in pedestrian areas, and methane harvesting through sewage percolation tanks.

GCLA also proposes water conservation measures critical to off-the-grid survival in water-starved Dubai, like atmospheric water harvesting, solar desalination through concentrated solar collectors, grey water recycling, and application of hydroponic sand to minimize water loss. Essentially, GCLA’s vision is an amalgamation of nearly every urban sustainability initiative in the past few years. It’s certainly utopian, but it may ultimately prove necessary.

Necessary, perhaps; but plausible, practical or realistic? Even assuming the best about Dubai, I’ll be surprised if the application of money and architectural talent alone can build a self-sufficient garden city in one of the dryest places on the planet… but it sure does look pretty. [image copyright GCLA; reproduced under Fair Use terms, contact if takedown required]

The utter Ballardian weirdness of Dubai

Sheik Zayed Road, DubaiReading this may take you half an hour, but it’ll be half an hour well spent. Johann Hari of The Independent goes to Dubai and unearths a slice of desert dressed as utopia, full of half-finished buildings, jaded over-moneyed ex-pats and a colossal underclass of what are essentially indentured slaves. I knew the place was bent, but not this badly.

Time doesn’t seem to pass in the malls. Days blur with the same electric light, the same shined floors, the same brands I know from home. Here, Dubai is reduced to its component sounds: do-buy. In the most expensive malls I am almost alone, the shops empty and echoing. On the record, everybody tells me business is going fine. Off the record, they look panicky. There is a hat exhibition ahead of the Dubai races, selling elaborate headgear for £1,000 a pop. “Last year, we were packed. Now look,” a hat designer tells me. She swoops her arm over a vacant space.

I approach a blonde 17-year-old Dutch girl wandering around in hotpants, oblivious to the swarms of men gaping at her. “I love it here!” she says. “The heat, the malls, the beach!” Does it ever bother you that it’s a slave society? She puts her head down, just as Sohinal did. “I try not to see,” she says. Even at 17, she has learned not to look, and not to ask; that, she senses, is a transgression too far.

Between the malls, there is nothing but the connecting tissue of asphalt. Every road has at least four lanes; Dubai feels like a motorway punctuated by shopping centres. You only walk anywhere if you are suicidal. The residents of Dubai flit from mall to mall by car or taxis.

It gets weirder and bleaker as you read through, making you realise that until recently the public veneer of Dubai was very effective in keeping us from seeing what was really happening… that and the complicity of our own willingness to accept what we’re told, of course. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the truth’s always stranger than fiction, because fiction is required to make sense. [image by chorcel]

The lone survivor: single organism ecosystem discovered

Scientists has discovered a new bacterial organism called desulforudis audaxviator that is an entirely self-sufficient ecosystem in and of itself, 2.8 km below the Earth’s surface the desulforudis audaxviator’s genome contains:

everything needed for the organism to sustain an independent existence and reproduce, including the ability to incorporate the elements necessary for life from inorganic sources, move freely, and protect itself from viruses, harsh conditions, and nutrient-poor periods by becoming a spore.

This is a beautiful discovery, and a testament to the diversity and splendour of Life. Also, it suggests there is no theoretical reason why life cannot survive in similar conditions on other planets:

“One question that has arisen when considering the capacity of other planets to support life is whether organisms can exist independently, without access even to the sun,” says Chivian. “The answer is yes, and here’s the proof. It’s sort of philosophically exciting to know that everything necessary for life can be packed into a single genome.

[image from eschipul on flickr]

An Exercise in Trend Recognition

For this edition of Future Imperfect, Sven Johnson has been grasping towards something which may or may not be there to grasp.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

If you spend any amount of time straining through global news and pop culture, you’ll probably have had a similar sense of unseen patterns waiting to be discovered. But, Sven asks, what exactly occurs the moment before trend recognition? Continue reading An Exercise in Trend Recognition

Fixing the future – Karl Schroeder on technological solutions for climate change

Design concept for a 'vertical farm'Many of the commonly tabled options for dealing with the incipient ecological crisis our planet is facing involve turning our backs on technology. One of the people taking the opposite position – namely that sustainability isn’t a zero-sum game – is Canadian science fiction author and foresight consultant Karl Schroeder, who talks about the potential of technologies like fusion power and vertical farming to avert catastrophe without destroying the potential of the human species in an interview at EcoGeek. [Vertical farm image borrowed from VerticalFarm.com]

And sometimes you just need to look at the bright side of things – for example, the rising cost of gasoline might reduce the incidence of obesity. It all ultimately boils down to personal lifestyle choices, though, at least as much as technology – so maybe we should think seriously about having less children.