Green Graun Journalist Defects

Quite a day here at Cliscep Headquarters. Watch the space above this post for a couple of goodies coming up Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, we’re delighted to welcome on board renowned Guardian environmental reporter Suzanne Goldenberg with the Sceptical Scoop of the year. She’s finally decided to come over from the dark side – seeking asylum from the asylum as it were – and we’re glad to welcome her on board. For contractual reasons she has been obliged to break her WholeEarth-shattering story revealing the absolute futility of the Green Dream over at the Guardian. Since we’re banned from commenting there, we’ll simply reproduce the choice parts of her report below. For the full thing, and for comments from the Guardian’s team of sock puppets, go here:

Masdar’s Zero-Carbon Dream Could Become World’s First Green Ghost Town.

Years from now passing travellers may marvel at the grandeur and the folly of the futuristic landscape on the edges of Abu Dhabi: the barely occupied office blocks, the deserted streets, the vast tracts of undeveloped land and – most of all – the abandoned dream of a zero-carbon city.
Masdar City, when it was first conceived a decade ago, was intended to revolutionise thinking about cities and the built environment. Now the world’s first planned sustainable city – the marquee project of the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) plan to diversify the economy from fossil fuels – could well be the world’s first green ghost town.

As of this year – when Masdar was originally scheduled for completion – managers have given up on the original goal of building the world’s first planned zero-carbon city.

Masdar City is nowhere close to zeroing out its greenhouse gas emissions now, even at a fraction of its planned footprint. And it will not reach that goal even if the development ever gets fully built, the authorities admitted.

“We are not going to try to shoehorn renewable energy into the city just to justify a definition created within a boundary,” said Chris Wan, the design manager for Masdar City.

“As of today, it’s not a net zero future,” he said. “It’s about 50%.”

When Masdar City began, in 2006, the project was touted as a model for a green mixed-use urban landscape: a global hub for the cleantech industry, with 50,000 residents and 40,000 commuters. […] a car-free city scape, with Jetson-style driverless electric cars shuttling passengers between buildings incorporating built-in shades and kitted out with smart technologies to resist the scorching desert heat, and keep cooling costs down…

Ten years on, however, only a fraction of the town has been built – less than 5% of the original six square km “greenprint”, as Wan called it. The completion date has been pushed back to 2030.

The core of Masdar City is in place, anchored by the large square-ish building that is the Middle East headquarters of Siemens… As many as 300 other firms such as GE’s Ecomagination and Lockheed Martin also have an official presence – though Wan acknowledged that in many cases that just amounts to a hot desk.

The International Renewable Energy Agency took over the other major building for its shimmering steel headquarters last year… the agency’s 90 or so staffers are the only occupants of the six-storey, 32,000m space…

The pioneering autonomous transport system – which was originally supposed to stretch to 100 stations – was scrapped after the first two stops.

There is a bike-sharing station – though it’s a good 10 miles away from Abu Dhabi, and there are no bike paths.

… delivering on the original dream of Masdar has been elusive. Crews broke ground in 2008, but plans withered in the global economic recession which soon followed when investors put their green dreams on hold. “A lot of the people who were considering investing in Masdar City decided to take a breather,” Wan said.

Meanwhile, the jet-set transport system was overtaken by technological developments in the auto sector. The expensive purpose-built system no longer made sense in an era when zero-emission electric cars were widely available. “Five years ago it’s true that we did not perceive the speed with which the electric vehicle would be developed,” Wan said.

But he insisted that Masdar was not a total failure. “Masdar is part of an evolutionary process,” he said.


  1. I would encourage people to look at the comments in the Guardian. Some are quite outspoken, especially the idea of having bicycle lanes in 45C heat – one of two comments I noticed on the subject.

    I love the idea of bike lanes….
    Peddaling around in 45C heat in an open desert with the sun beating down on you must have an appeal to someone.
    As a now retired cyclist of many decades and in several climates I doubt it would be me.
    These “green people” are delusional. Zero emissions, what nonsense.
    Every aspect of this dream city is simply not possible. When are people going to wake up to this ideological clap trap.

    The last part about “green people” being delusional I would have issues with though. The problem is more one of connecting the aims with practical results. With the $22bn they could have built another reactor at their nuclear power station and had change left over to build a more conventional, less power-efficient, town.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to work in Abu Dhabi.

    There is a determination in the UAE to build something to survive the end of oil. This is a sensible policy which normally involves policies like enterprise zones where the normal rules of Arab commerce are relaxed to encourage Western investment.

    Occasionally I would drive from Abu Dhabi to Dubai or back. The highway runs through sparsely populated country and the only things to catch the eye are enormous billboards congratulating the country’s rulers for some policy or other. So on the highway we saw a sign congratulating the ruler for building the biggest hub airport in the Middle East, followed a mile later by a sign eulogising the leader for their far sighted green policies.

    Petrol is really cheap. Any citizen except the very poorest has a car. Even middle managers have 4x4s. I doubt the idea of giving up cars has made much headway since I left.


  3. I welcome this new recruit to our ranks, and wonder how she can be made to feel comfortable here. If as seems inevitable she is fired from The Guardian, and cut off from sundry associated media opportunities (e.g. the BBC) as a heretic, she will need to adjust to being quite poor – especially since we don’t even have a tip-jar. She won’t get any international, or indeed local, travel perks, nor any strokes from establishment bodies such as the Royal Society. Grants and awards and money in general are vanishingly rare. Some poor souls perish still clinging to the hope of seeing the fabled fossil-fuel treasure-trove, but we dismiss that myth. There is no career path winding through these parts. She may well need to get another job. I sense also that she may need some pastoral care. The fanciful Masdar City is clearly a metaphor for the entire edifice of eco-nuttery given such a building-boost by the panic over CO2: things that sound good but don’t work, ambitious plans that end up as so much scrap in remote places, impressive facades with nothing much behind them like the Potemkin Villages of yore, and extensive and quite unnecessary suffering by many not so visible people.. She may yet feel pangs of sympathy for friends left behind in this desert of the soul and spirit, in largely empty, decaying buildings with only bicycles to get them without contradiction to the fleshpots of the genuine world . We shall need to keep a careful eye on her wellbeing. Perhaps we could club together to get her to a health spa somewhere for a month of pampering, free from distractions and with lots of time to start working through the set of books and papers we might well wish to gift. I have spare copies of works by Simon, Lomborg, and Montford for example – extra copies I bought when I thought I had lost my original ones. So once again, welcome Suzanne. You have come from a very dark place. May you find warmth, light, and compassion here to help you on your way.


  4. John Shade
    Your concern for Suzanne’s welfare does you credit. Don’t worry. She’s in a safe house somewhere far from Kings Cross being debriefed by Brad “Smiley” Keyes. As soon as we’ve assured ourselves that she’s not a double agent sent to siphon off our supplies of Big Oil money into the empty tanks of the Graun she will be provided with a new identity and a job writing our Nature Notes column.


  5. Thanks Geoff, I appreciate that all that was done on a need-to-know basis. Now my mind is at rest. No one fools old Smiley for very long.


  6. I ceased reading The Guardian years ago when the editorial moderators begin to routinely delete my comments; same way with the NYT Opinion page. So I cannot fully appreciate this article, although based upon my recollections, I do find it hard to believe that Suzzane Goldenberg came over from the Dark Side.
    If indeed it is true, perhaps there is something to Mackay’s hypothesis:
    “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”
    ― Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds


  7. Potentilla, thanks for spotting that. So John Vidal may be another rat fleeing the sinking ship. He’s finally realised what many have been saying for years – the CO2 obsession distracts attention from other issues.


  8. Potentilla
    Thanks for the link. John Vidal is not exactly saying that we should forget about climate change, but rather that we should tack worry about smog etc on to it. He forgets to mention that by far the greater number of deaths from air pollution come, not from transport-induced smog in our cities, but from wood- or cowpat-fired cooking stoves in Africa, a problem that would be resolved by natural gas or coal-fired power stations.

    Nice to hear from you after a long time. I believe hydrology is your area of expertise, if I remember correctly from long chats at Harmless Sky several years ago.


  9. Hydrologists are on the front-line of assessing the impacts of climate change but we are still looking for actual evidence of recent changes to the frequency of floods and droughts. We have data to work with but no statistically significant trends found so far.


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