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The world's first carbon-neutral city

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has just officially unveiled its plans to build the world's first carbon-neutral city. Situated on Abu Dhabi's desert outskirts, "Masdar City" is designed from the ground up to be the first completely environmentally sustainable city and a hub for renewable energy research. The UAE's rulers hope Masdar will eventually house at least 1,500 businesses and 50,000 people, powered by solar and other renewable energy sources.

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Residents will be able to get by on foot, despite the region's blistering climate, thanks to architectural techniques that promote shading and help generate cooling breezes. Stops for the city's solar-powered "personalized rapid transport pods" will be no further than 200 meters apart. Lord Norman Foster, the founder and head of the architectural firm in charge of the Masdar development, said the project "promises to set new benchmarks for the sustainable city of the future." Is he right? Is the project even viable?

Ann Rappaport, an urban and environmental policy specialist at Tufts University, spoke with FP about the project a while back. She seems to share Foster's optimism:

[F]or almost everything, it's easier to do it right the first time. That's true of a new building versus renovating an old building, [so] why shouldn't it be true of [building] a new city, [rather] than transforming an old one? ...

[Y]ou can think about spatial patterns, you can think about their notion of creating walkable spaces... shading—all these things that we now understand to be very important to our carbon budget. We just weren't thinking about that hundreds of years ago when our major world capitals were developed. So that's exciting.... [Your first reaction may be that this is] a city in the middle of a place that others might define as a desert. On the other hand, I think that climate change is challenging us all to think about where the good locations are for human development.... When many of the world's foremost cities were developed, we were looking at transportation access by boat, and now that means that these cities are really vulnerable to sea level rise... [T]he prospect looks attractive, and perhaps the devil's in the details, but it’s not a ludicrous concept.

No country needs this type of innovative thinking about the environment more than the UAE, designated by the World Wildlife Fund as the country with the world's worst per capita ecological footprint. Obviously, one project is not enough to exonerate the country's wasteful and unsustainable practices. But at least it's a start.

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Could North Korea collapse?

I had an interesting discussion earlier this week with Michael Goldfarb, my counterpart at the Weekly Standard, regarding growing speculation about a North Korean collapse. You can catch my Bloggingheads.tv debut here, in which we also chat about missile defense, Iran, neocon dreamboat John McCain, the next U.S. president's Bush-like foreign policy, and the possibility of a coup in Pakistan (I'm the handsome, if orangish-looking fellow on the left).

In the "diavlog," I mention an interesting article in Military Review (pdf) that argues that the Chinese are making aggressive, serious contingency plans for the fall of Kim Jong Il's regime.

Since our discussion, Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shumbun has looked into the matter further and has this to report:

Security specialists of the Chinese People's Liberation Army have been discussing the possibility of sending troops to North Korea should the present regime of Kim Jong Il collapse, to prevent armed refugees from entering the northeastern part of China, sources close to China-North Korea relations revealed Monday.

China fears that, in addition to ordinary North Korean refugees, armed members of the country's military and security forces might also become refugees, entering the border area in the northeastern region in China. Chinese troops sent to North Korea would help maintain security and safeguard the country's nuclear facilities.

According to the sources, China considers the situation in North Korea to be stable for the time being, but is hastily formulating emergency measures to cope with unexpected circumstances nonetheless.

How likely is a North Korean implosion? Who the heck really knows? But the regime is definitely under a lot of stress lately, so it's a situation that bears close watching. I hope smart people at the Pentagon are thinking hard about the possibility.

Do also check out Andrei Lankov's memo to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "How to Topple Kim Jong Il." Folks tell us it was making the rounds at the State Department back in March 2007 when it was first published, though we can't say for sure whether Condi herself read it.