The most extreme expression of the wealth of the gulf cities is in Dubai. Home to more skyscrapers per square mile than anywhere else on earth. This forest of concreate, glass and steal is towered over by the Burj Khalif a. At half a mile high, it’s three hundred meters higher than any other building on earth.

As well as going up, the Gulf cities are spreading out. This is the Palm. It’s an extraordinary feat of engineering. But each front was created by dredging sand from the seabed. And on the seabed is a grassland as rich as the plains of Africa.

For much of the year, Arabia is so hot, that many people are their most active after sunset. Even at night, heat can be unbearable. So much of people’s time is spent indoors, in air-conditioned spaces. Dubai is home to the world’s largest shopping mall. Kept cool all year round, good for the ski slope and ice rink. Dubai by night is a vision of the most energy-hungry society on earth.

The richest Arab countries use more energy per person than anywhere else. And virtually all of it comes from burning fossil fuels. As well as contributing to climate change, that makes these countries very reliant on oil. And the Gulf oil wells will start to run dry within the next few decades.

This is the solar power plant for the most futuristic town on Earth, Masdar. Lying on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, Masdar is the prototype for the cities of the future. A hundred percent carbon neutral, but with all mod cons. Some features are simple ideas borrowed from traditional Arab architecture. The overhang from the floor above shades those below. And the streets are narrow, so that they are shaded from the intense of the sun. Any breeze is captured in the wind tower and channeled down to the street. Combined with a light spray of water, this can lower the temperature at ground level by 15 degree centigrade. Simple solutions like this create a cool outdoor space even in midsummer.

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