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Concerned about the effects of intense drought, wildfire, and other extreme weather events on their ever more precarious ability to survive, the Middle East’s increasingly tumultuous natural environments have become a fixation for a great many people of the region. Their recent awareness follows upon a decades-long era of intense industrialized exploitation, one that saw the natural world primarily as a source of valuable commodities (oil, natural gas, water) and where only the most egregious effects of that use were addressed in only the least threatening of ways. In more recent times, the region has seen the rise of innovative mega-projects aimed at fixing environmental problems through the application of technoscientific expertise in areas like clean energy and water management. Such techno-fixes have left many environmental activists unsatisfied, foreseeing as they do the insufficiency of such narrow goals in the face of wide-ranging and interconnected environmental catastrophes. For them, market rationales like those declaring the golf courses of gated communities to be the “lungs of the nation” have become so entrenched that meaningful change may only arise through fundamental social, political, and cultural reorganizations. Focusing on the interplay between academic research and public discourse, this conference invites participants to reflect on the extent to which the idea of “fixing the environment” has become a mere product of power relations within and between societies. As the social and economic inequalities inherent to globalized capitalism continue to deepen democratic deficits in the region and beyond, what role can academics and activists play? Must we accept the words of those who see the future of human life as outside this planet? Or might Middle Eastern societies, many with their long histories of environmental exploitation and autocratic governance, make them fertile grounds from which real change might arise?

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